July 7, 2022

TikTok Sued By Families After Children Die Trying ‘Blackout Challenge’

The parents of two young girls are suing TikTok after the children, aged eight and nine years old, died attempting the “Blackout Challenge.” The families say the video-sharing platform’s “dangerous” algorithm is what led the children to an early death.

The life-threatening challenge, which became popular over the past few weeks, encourages users to choke themselves until they pass out. Parents of Lalani Erika Renee Walton and Nylah Anderson say TikTok’s algorithm “intentionally” pushed videos of the dangerous trend onto the children’s For You page, which is why the young girls decided to participate in it.

“TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows is dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users.”

Lalani Erika Renee Walton, aged eight, died on 15th July 2021. Police officers concluded that her death was a “direct result of attempting TikTok’s ‘blackout challenge.'” Nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo died on 26th February 2021 after she was found unresponsive by her five-year-old brother.

According to the Superior Court in Los Angeles County, the Walton and Anderson family have both filed a lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that TikTok knew its platform was “addictive” but still advertised it to young children. The parents, represented by the Social Media Victims Law Centre (SMVLC), believe TikTok should be held accountable for pushing harmful content to these young girls, ultimately leading to their death.

“TikTok needs to be held accountable for pushing deadly content to these two young girls,” said Matthew P Bergman, attorney at SMVLC. “TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows is dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users.”

10-year-old, Nylah Anderson, also passed away after mimicking people she’d watched on the video-sharing app. The young girl was inspired by the “Blackout Challenge,” and accidentally hanged herself in her home. She endured “hellacious suffering” until she lost consciousness. According to The Washington Post, Nylah’s mother, Tawainna Anderson, is also suing TikTok in a separate lawsuit after stating her daughter was a victim of “a predatory and manipulative app” that “pushed exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges” in front of Nylah and other children.

These are not the only deaths as a result of the deadly challenge. According to Business Insider, the popular trend has been linked to at least four other deaths of children ranging from 10 to 14 in Australia, Italy, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Families are coming forward to urge TikTok to take ownership of the type of content it allows to circulate on its app. In addition, parents have been advised to monitor their children’s social media use and limit screen time as much as possible.

TikTok addressed the complaints in a 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,” the platform added.

“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.”

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Kumba Kpakima

Kumba Kpakima is a reporter at POCIT. A documentary about the knife crime epidemic in the UK got her a nomination for the UK's #30toWatch Young Journalists of the Year.