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When is a gun not a gun? On TV and twittered

How posting a Twitter message during an episode of Lost taught one blogger that sometimes 140 characters can be quite misleading.

Spoiler alert: If you really hate reading anything about episodes of Lost that you haven't seen yet--and you haven't seen the episode that first aired Wednesday--you might not want to read ahead.

I know we have more pressing things to talk about these days--the economy, climate change, the new president--but I'm going to barge in this morning with a warning about something a bit more niche.

When you're posting to Twitter about something you're watching on TV, make sure nobody thinks it's really happening!

Background: I've been watching this season of Lost at a local bar that shows it on a couple of massive screens every week. The place is packed full of total fanatics: it's like football, except with flaming arrows in lieu of pigskin. Highly recommended.

So in Wednesday night's episode, something happens. I'm going to be very vague to avoid spoiling it, but basically, there's one point in which a character is holding a gun, and the important part is that we have never learned what said character's name is. There's an argument, and another character, whose name we do know, addresses the anonymous gun-wielder by name. It's a name that would shock even mildly avid Lost-watchers. Most of those in the bar expressed their surprise by gasping, shrieking, or otherwise effusing.

A commercial break followed, and--of course--I posted a Twitter message: "'Put the gun down, [redacted].' OMG WHOA. Whole bar gasped."

Well, a few minutes later I received a direct message from someone I know on Twitter--I'll keep this person anonymous. The message read, "someone pulled out a gun???" Apparently, my Twitter contact hadn't seen the earlier messages that made it clear I was watching Lost and seemed to think I was at a bar where someone had pulled out a gun. Oops.

Luckily, no panic ensued. It was, after all, only a single Twitter post. A few direct messages and a public clarification later, I'd explained the reality of the situation, and my Twitter contact responded with, "There must be a term for this: 'taken out of twontext?'" I'm generally not a fan of corny Twitter puns, but he hit the nail on the head.

I guess putting things into "twontext" is why we have Twitter hash tags, the searchable keywords that many people tack onto the end of Twitter messages, often to tie them to discussion surrounding an event--say, "#davos" for the World Economic Forum or "#inaug09" for this month's presidential inauguration. I typically don't use them unless I'm at a conference where we've been asked to tag for aggregation purposes, but Wednesday night hinted to me that considering how much banter and noise fills up a Twitter feed, it's really easy to get the wrong idea about something.

I mean, goodness knows what might happen on Lost next week.