Families of 2 girls, who died in 2021 because of a viral trend, have filed a lawsuit against TikTok, blaming the platform for their death. The ‘Blackout challenge’ encouraged users to choke themselves until they passed out. The families are represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal firm for parents of children harmed by social media abuse and addiction. They alleged that TikTok’s “dangerous” algorithm “intentionally and repeatedly” pushed challenge videos into the children’s feeds, making them participate in the challenge that resulted in their deaths. They accused TikTok of knowing about the dangerous nature of the content but still allowing it to reach children.
Blackout Challenge on TikTok Makes You Famous
The first victim of the Blackout challenge was an 8-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton from Texas. She died in July 2021 as a direct result of trying to do the viral challenge. The Walton family described her as a “sweet, outgoing girl, who loved to play with makeup and dress up as a princess”. According to the complaint, Lalani received a smartphone on her 8th birthday in April 2021 which saw her quickly become “addicted” to TikTok. She often posted videos of her singing and dancing in hopes of becoming famous. Her parents also noticed bruises on her neck in the month of July. She shrugged them off by saying it was an accident but in reality, she started practising the controversial challenge. The complaint said that she was under the impression that posting a video on that challenge would make her famous.
The second victim was 9-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo from Wisconsin. She received her smartphone at the age of 7 and gradually became “addicted” to posting dance videos on TikTok. The Arroyo family warned her about a similar incident of a young TikTok user dying due to a challenge. Arriani assured her parents that she would not attempt the challenge but in February 2021, her 5-year-old brother found her not breathing.
The complaint said that TikTok was aware of how quickly the deadly challenge was spreading, but still, the platform chose to do nothing. TikTok has not yet publically responded to the lawsuit.
Platform’s History with Encouraging Dangerous Trends
These are not the only victims of the Blackout challenge. Several children have died trying to play the dangerous game that predates TikTok. According to reports, games that involve choking have been taking the lives of children since 1995. The modern technology and internet only made it easy for such games to find victims.
TikTok has long been criticized for spreading similar dangerous challenges. In 2020, a 15-year-old girl lost her life after taking the Benadryl challenge, which tasked the users with taking a large amount of the antihistamine drug for hallucinogenic effects. In the same year, 2 minors were charged with assault after taking part in the skull breaker challenge, which involved 2 people making the third one fall on his head. It caused the victim to have seizures. In 2021, another viral trend called the ‘milk crate challenge’ encouraged users to climb the stack of fragile milk crates and stand on top of it. Several doctors have reported that those who partook in this game ended up with spinal cord injuries, dislocated shoulders, and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
Profit Over Protection
SMVLC attorneys claimed the company intentionally allowed content like the Blackout challenge to proliferate on the platform because it increased subscribers, user engagement, and ultimately profit. They said that TikTok prioritized making more and more money over the health and safety of its users. The Walton and Arroyo families are seeking an undisclosed amount in damages following a jury trial.