TikTok is facing multiple lawsuits from parents who say their children died of strangulation while attempting the “blackout challenge” after the app showed them videos of other people trying. In a lawsuit filed against the company in June, it is alleged that at least seven specific children died while taking on the challenge last year. All the children who reportedly died were under the age of 15.
We won’t go into the disturbing details of the cases, but you can read the full complaint below for more background on some of the kids and how they rose to the challenge.
The most recent lawsuit was filed by the parents of eight-year-old Lalani Walton and nine-year-old Arriani Arroyo. However, it cites several other children who also died after attempting the challenge as proof that TikTok was aware of the problem. In addition to Walton and Arroyo, the following 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
The mother of 10-year-old Pennsylvania, Nylah Anderson, is also suing the company, claiming the app “pressed for extraordinarily and unacceptably dangerous challenges.” In response to that suit, TikTok told The Washington Post that it had blocked users from Search for the blackout challenge – instead, users will see one of the warning screens, stating that “some online challenges may be dangerous, disturbing, or even made up”, and will be linked to an in-app challenge rating page and warnings.
However, Smith and Arroyo’s newer suit claims their kids weren’t looking for challenges when they saw the videos. Instead, TikTok says to post the right for them on the main screen of the app, the For You page. The lawsuit accuses the company of “specifically curating and determining that these Blackout Challenge videos — videos featuring users deliberately strangling themselves until they lose consciousness — are appropriate and appropriate for small children.”
For the record, TikTok spokesperson Mahsau Cullinane would only give the company’s earlier statement:
This disturbing ‘challenge’, which people seem to be learning about from sources other than TikTok, predates our platform long before 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 condolences go out to the family for this tragic loss.
Challenges are a core part of the TikTok experience – to the point where competitors have started integrating them into their platforms in an effort to attract TikTok users. Some challenges simply involve a dance move, while others are less benign. An infamous challenge that spread among the users of the platform encouraged students to steal or destroy school property. The platform is so well known for its challenges that the company is sometimes associated with sites that spread on other sites or apps, or even that are seemingly made up.
Smith and Arroyo’s lawsuit states that because TikTok advertises and takes on a number of challenges, it has a “duty to monitor the videos and challenges shared, posted and/or distributed on its app and platform to ensure that dangerous and lethal videos and challenges are not posted, shared, distributed, recommended and/or encouraged.”
The company has previously faced lawsuits and fines for accessing children’s platforms. In 2019, it agreed to pay $5.7 million to pay the Federal Trade Commission fees that allowed users under 13 to sign up without parental consent. About a year later, it introduced Family Pairing mode, which allows parents to link their accounts to their children’s and control how much content they see and how much time they can spend on the app.