Have you read about that new study that says spoilers don't really affect how much we enjoy films and TV shows? Yeah, I don't buy it.
On my Twitter feed the other day, someone innocently made an offhand reference to an event, which I will abbreviate as "RW." I ran the term through Google, not realizing what it was, and found myself confronted with a major potential spoiler for a future season of "Game of Thrones." I managed to hit the back button before I learned the particulars of how "RW" played out, but much of the damage was done. I knew the broad outlines of the event, and knew roughly when to expect it would be coming, and so had likely ruined a major surprise for myself. Grrr. Aaargh. There was nothing I could do but try to forget about it as best I could and move on. Stumbling over some spoilers on the internet in this day and age is inevitable. I've done plenty of ranting about this before.
However, there are ways to minimize the potential for getting spoiled for shows, and some of these tactics are a necessity when you're catching up older programs like "The Sopranos," "Battlestar Galactica," or "Lost" and still want to be able to maintain an online presence. The easiest way, of course, is to simply stay away from everything online that concerns the show you're watching until you've finished, every Wikipedia and IMDB article, ever message board, and every review. If you're like me though, and like using some of these resources while watching a show, then more complex tactics need to be employed.
First and foremost, you want to avoid the official sites for a show if you're more than a few episodes behind, especially if it's still on the air. One of the most frustrating accidental spoilers I ever came across was for the ending of the first season of "Dexter." I was introduced to the show through the CBS rebroadcast a few summers ago. When I went to the official "Dexter" site to figure out how many episodes I had left to watch, I stumbled across introductory information for the then current second season, which started out by spoiling the first season finale in the first damn sentence. The primary purpose of official show sites is to get you to watch the show is it is airing, which means they frequently try to catch latecomers up on the story through spoilerific summaries of what's gone on before. This helps infrequent watchers, but not the viewers like me working through older seasons.
Enjoy reading reviews and summaries and post-show online discussion? There are plenty of sites with archives of older reviews, like AV Club, and they're relatively safe to browse as long as you keep an eye on the publication dates. These also tend to be pretty good sources of information for identifying specific characters and actors and other general information. The show guides and credit listings on IMDB and Wikipedia are more accessible of course, but they're also rife with more recent information and news tidbits that create a higher chance of spoilers, because these sites strive to provide up-to-date information. With IMDB cast lists, the name of the actor who plays a particular character on "The Sopranos" or "The Wire" may come with how many episodes they appeared in, often a dead giveaway that their characters gets killed off in an upcoming episode.
Fan-run sites and communities tend to be a mixed bag, but the ones that try to be newbie-friendly will often do a better job of policing spoilers and putting up warnings than the bigger sites will. So many people are introduced to older shows through DVD sets now, that there's more sensitivity about spoilers among fans than there used to be. You take your chances with the trolls and the jerks, but in my experience the attention seekers tend to gravitate toward the larger, more official sites. Comments on articles and message board discussion threads are also riskier, but again, in the ones dated to the time roughly when the show originally aired, the spoilers should be minimal.
There are always going to be those spoilers that seep into the popular culture, like the final scene of "The Sopranos" or the rage over the first season ending of AMC's "The Killing," but otherwise I've found that once you figure out where the spoilers about a show tend to accumulate, they're much easier to avoid. I've successfully managed to remain spoiler-free about "Boardwalk Empire," "The Walking Dead," and many other shows that have gotten a lot of chatter recently, so I can enjoy them later on my own terms. And frankly, I these days I often have more fun mainlining older TV programs than watching the new ones week to week.