TikTok is being sued by the families of two young girls who allegedly died as a result of trying out a viral challenge.
The families claim that the app’s ‘dangerous’ algorithms are to blame for their children’s deaths.
The two girls aged eight and nine-years-old died taking part in a ‘blackout challenge’ that went viral on TikTok last year and claimed a number of childrens’ lives.
The ‘blackout’ challenge just like its name encouraged users to choke themselves until they passed out, according to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, July 5 in Los Angeles.
The families are seeking an unspecified amount in damages and have requested a jury trial to take place in California.
The families allege the platform’s ‘dangerous algorithm intentionally and repeatedly’ pushed videos of the challenge into the children’s feeds, incentivizing them to participate in the challenge that ultimately took their lives.
‘TikTok needs to be held accountable for pushing deadly content to these two young girls,’ said Matthew P Bergman, founding attorney of Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media addiction and abuse.
‘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,’
Eight-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton from Texas died on 15 July 2021 in what police determined was ‘a direct result of attempting TikTok’s “blackout challenge”‘, according to the complaint.
Lalani had received a phone for her eighth birthday in April 2021 and ‘quickly became addicted to watching TikTok videos’, the complaint said. She often posted videos of herself singing and dancing, in hopes of becoming ‘TikTok famous’.
‘She was also under the belief that if she posted a video of herself doing the Blackout Challenge, then she would become famous and so she decided to give it a try,’ the complaint said.
‘Lalani was eight years old at the time and did not appreciate or understand the dangerous nature of what TikTok was encouraging her to do.’
This is not the first lawsuit against the company, prompted by the ‘blackout challenge’. In May, the mother of a 10-year-old girl who choked herself to death after participating in the dangerous challenge filed a wrongful death lawsuit against TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance.
The other victim named in the suit was nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo who received a phone when she was seven years old and ‘gradually became obsessive’ about posting dance videos on TikTok and became ‘addicted’ to the app.
On 26 February, 2021 Arroyo was found not breathing by her five-year-old brother and could not be revived.
‘TikTok unquestionably knew that the deadly Blackout Challenge was spreading through their app and that their algorithm was specifically feeding the Blackout Challenge to children, including those who have died,’ said the complaint.
The lawsuit claims that TikTok’s algorithm promotes harmful content, allows underage users on the app, and fails to warn users or their legal guardians of the app’s addictive nature.