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What just happened? The families of several children who died while trying to participate in a dangerous TikTok challenge are suing the company and its parent, ByteDance, after the app allegedly recommended videos of the 'blackout' strangulation challenge to the minors, all of whom were ten years of age or under.
The TikTok blackout challenge—aka the fainting game, game of choking, or speed dreaming—follows the long trend of viral challenges on the social media platform that have the potential to cause severe injury or death. This one involves users trying to asphyxiate themselves, sometimes by pressing their palms into their necks, until they blackout.
As reported by The Los Angeles Times, lawsuits filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday allege that Erika Walton, 8, and Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, 9, both took part in the blackout challenge after TikTok's algorithm recommended videos of others engaging in the trend.
Walton, from Texas, had long hoped to become "TikTok famous." The suit says she was found "hanging from her bed with a rope around her neck" after watching blackout challenge videos on repeat.
Arroyo, from Milwaukee, was found in her bedroom hanging from the family dog's leash. She was admitted to the hospital and placed on a ventilator but had lost all brain function and was eventually taken off life support.
"TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design and develop its product to encourage, enable, and push content to teens and children that defendant knows to be problematic and highly detrimental to its minor users' mental health," the lawsuit says.
The pair aren't the first children alleged to have died while attempting the blackout challenge. Ten-year-old Nylah Anderson's mother sued TikTok and ByteDance after her daughter died five days after asphyxiating herself in December. The suit claimed Nylah had been watching videos of the challenge surfaced by the algorithm.
There have been reports of other children, aged 10 to 14, also dying while participating in the blackout challenge.
Challenges such as these are not a new social-social media phenomenon. TikTok users are currently injuring themselves while taking part in the milk crate challenge that involves climbing the unsecured crates. There was also the Benadryl challenge, where people drink enough of the medicine to hallucinate; the aptly-named skull-breaker challenge; the salt and ice challenge where participants pour salt on their bodies, usually on the arm, and ice is then placed on the salt; the Drake-inspired Kiki challenge; and the notorious Tide Pod challenge linked to at least ten deaths.
TikTok recently made headlines after an FCC commissioner called on Google and Apple to ban the app from their stores over concerns that user data was being accessed by China-based employees. It responded by sending US lawmakers a letter explaining how the company will keep all information stored in US-based Oracle data centers, which would be periodically audited by a US-based security team.