Parents who say their children died as the result of TikTok’s “blackout challenge” are suing the company, alleging the app’s algorithm and design contributed to the deaths.
A lawsuit was filed earlier this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to the New York Times. While different forms of the challenge have existed for decades, the lawsuit cites the addictive nature of the app’s For You page, where TikTok trends and challenges are served to an ever-growing audience based on user engagement.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of two girls who died in 2021, 8-year-old Lalani Erika Walton of Texas and 9-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo of Wisconsin. They both allegedly participated in the challenge, which requires participants to hold their breath or choke themselves until they pass out or are about to pass out. The case also cites the deaths of five other children allegedly as a result of the challenge.
The suit claims that TikTok knew of this dangerous trend and still directed users to it, despite prohibiting searches for blackout challenge content. A search now brings up resources to “recognize harmful challenges,” and it’s difficult to find any blackout challenge videos on TikTok.
The parents are being represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center. Attorney Matthew P. Bergman said in a statement that TikTok “has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows are dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users.”
In response to the new lawsuit, TikTok has rehashed an earlier statement, distancing itself as the origin of the challenge and claiming it “long predates our platform.” It cites a 2008 CDC report on accidental deaths from the “choking game” or “pass-out game” from 1995 to 2007. There were reports of choking game deaths or injuries past 2007 as well.
The January 2021 death of a 10-year-old girl in Italy was the first reported death tied to the blackout challenge on TikTok. In a high-profile U.K. case, a 12-year-old boy who allegedly attempted the challenge is now on life support, and his parents are fighting in the courts to keep him alive.
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