TikTok is being sued again for allegedly causing the deaths of two children who participated in a challenge that encourages people to choke themselves until they become unconscious.
Why it matters
The lawsuit underscores the type of dangerous content young people see on TikTok and other social media apps.
TikTok, a video app popular among young people, has been accused of causing the deaths of two children who participated in a challenge that circulated on the platform, according to a lawsuit filed on Friday.
Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges that TikTok's algorithm recommended what's known as the "blackout challenge" to 8-year-old Lalani Erika Walton and 9-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, both of whom died in 2021 from strangling themselves. The challenge encourages people to choke themselves until they become unconscious.
The children's parents, who are being represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center, are suing TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, for allegedly concealing the dangers of the app from consumers. The lawsuit was reported earlier by The Los Angeles Times.
"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 lawsuit comes as the app faces increasing scrutiny over the impact it's having on young people. In May, the mother of a 10-year-old girl who died in Pennsylvania sued TikTok, alleging her child died from the "blackout challenge." That lawsuit also lists other victims. Attorneys general from several states, including California, are also looking into the harmful effects TikTok can have on young people.
TikTok algorithms exploit users under the ages of 18 whose brains aren't fully developed enough to control their impulses and emotions, the Los Angeles lawsuit says. Despite knowing about the dangerous "blackout challenge," the company "failed to take reasonable and appropriate steps," such as blocking or removing the videos, to prevent kids from seeing this content.
Walton believed that if she posted a video of herself doing the challenge she would become famous, according to the lawsuit. After her death, her family learned from police that the 8-year-old had repeatedly been watching videos of the dangerous challenge on TikTok.
Arroyo also saw dangerous TikTok challenges and videos on TikTok that encouraged her to participate in the "blackout challenge." Her mom also told her not to participate in these challenges, according to the lawsuit.
TikTok didn't respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for TikTok told People magazine in 2021 that the "blackout challenge" predated social media and "has never been a TikTok trend." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the public about a choking game in 2008 in which young people would try to choke themselves and others to achieve a brief "high."
TikTok's rules prohibit dangerous challenges, and the company launched a page on its website that encourages people to stop and think if an online challenge is harmful before attempting it. TikTok currently directs users who search for the "blackout challenge" on its app to this page.