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TikTok’s ‘blackout’ challenge linked to deaths of 20 children in 18 months, report says

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-12-01

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The fatal “ blackout challenge ” on TikTok has reportedly been linked to the deaths of at least 20 children in the past 18 months.

The popular challenge on the social media platform encourages people to choke themselves with household items until they become unconscious and film the adrenaline rush once they regain consciousness.

At least 15 of those children, who died while filming the challenge, were aged 12 or younger, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek . Five of the victims were aged 13 or 14.

The blackout challenge is a modern incarnation of choking dares that have been around for years, but have been made accessible to children through social media platforms. The “choking game” killed 82 minors when it first appeared in 2008 , according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have been sued by parents who claimed their children died as a result of the fatal challenge.

In February 2021, a nine-year-old girl in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, choked to death after wrapping a household item around her neck while allegedly trying to perform the blackout challenge, the report said.

Antonella Sicomero, a 10-year-old girl in Palermo, Italy, was found hanging. Her parents said she died while playing an “extreme game on TikTok”.

Following her death, the Palermo prosecutor’s office opened an investigation and Italy’s privacy watchdog ordered the video platform to remove users in the country whose age it couldn’t verify being over 13.

When a group from trust and safety reviewed every video clip the girl had watched, it found that she, like many children of her age, claimed she was older than 13 when she created a TikTok account.

In a relief for TikTok, the team found no evidence that the app’s algorithm had recommended the challenge to Antonella.

After Antonella’s death in 2021, TikTok agreed to reverify the ages of the country’s 12.5 million users and ended up deleting half a million accounts.

However, the deaths continued.

In December 2021, Nylah Anderson, 10, died after constraining her breathing at home in a Philadelphia suburb. Her mother found cellphone videos of the girl and her cousin playing an asphyxiation game.

When reported to the police, an officer wrote in an incident report that the cousin said: “It was a strangulation challenge they saw on TikTok and YouTube.”

Bloomberg reported that the lawsuit filed against the video platform by Nylah’s mother cited a forensic analysis of the girl’s phone. It claimed it encouraged her to take specific actions that would have resulted in strangulation.

“The company 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 had died,” the complaint read.

However, lawsuits attempting to blame TikTok and ByteDance failed in the US as courts deemed the company had immunity under the Communications Decency Act, which secures tech platforms from being held liable for the content published on their sites.

A recent survey by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found more than 1.6 million social media accounts owned by children are falsely registered with adult ages.

Nearly 93 per cent of young people aged 11-17 said they have an account on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter or YouTube, with a 24 per cent misreporting their age when doing so.

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