Video-sharing platform, TikTok is contending with numerous lawsuits from parents who said their children died of strangulation attempting the “blackout challenge,” after the TikTok app had exposed them to the videos of other people trying it.
A June suit filed against TikTok accused the ByteDance owned company of aiding the death of at least seven specific children last year due to trying to attempt the challenge as seen on the app, with the complaint saying the challenge “encourages users to choke themselves with belts, purse strings, or anything similar until passing out.” The suit added that all the children who died were less than 15 years old.
Another recent lawsuit, filed by the parents of Lalani Walton, 8 and Arriana Arroyo, 9, said their kids died after attempting the challenge, as they cited several other children who also died after trying it, inferring that the cases were proofs that TikTok was aware of the problem. Aside Walton and Arroyo, the cases listed in the suit are:
- A 10-year-old in Italy who reportedly died in January 2021
- A 12-year-old in Colorado who reportedly died in March 2021
- A 14-year-old in Australia who reportedly died in June 2021
- A 12-year-old in Oklahoma who reportedly died in July 2021
- A 10-year-old in Pennsylvania who reportedly died in December 2021
In another suit, the mother of Nylah Anderson, the Pennsylvania 10-year-old said to have died December last year, accused the app of “pushing exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges.”
TikTok in its response to the suit, had told The Washington Post that it had blocked users from searching for the blackout challenge — instead, users see one of its warning screens, saying that “some online challenges can be dangerous, disturbing, or even fabricated,” and get linked to a page in the app about assessing challenges and warnings.
See below the screen TikTok shows when a user searches for the blackout challenge.
But it should be noted that the two suits (Smith and Arroyo’s) did not posit that their children weren’t searching for challenges when they saw the videos, but says TikTok put it right in front of them on the app’s main screen, the For You page. The suit further accuses the company of having “specifically curated and determined that these Blackout Challenge videos – videos featuring users who purposefully strangulate themselves until losing consciousness – are appropriate and fitting for small children”.
TikTok spokesperson Mahsau Cullinane , in defence had to re-echo the company’s previous statement:
“This disturbing ‘challenge,’ which people seem to learn about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform and has never been a TikTok trend. We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
“Challenges are a core part of the TikTok experience — to the point where competitors have started trying to integrate them into their platforms in an attempt at appealing to TikTok users. Some challenges simply involve doing a dance move, while others are less benign. One infamous challenge that spread among the platform’s users encouraged students to steal or destroy school property. The platform is so well-known for its challenges that the company is sometimes linked to ones that spread on other sites or apps, or even ones that are seemingly made up”.
The suits from Smith and Arroyo opines that since TikTok advertises and pushes some challenges, it has a “duty to monitor the videos and challenges shared, posted, and / or circulated on its app and platform to ensure that dangerous and deadly videos and challenges were not posted, shared, circulated, recommended, and / or encouraged.”