The massively popular video app TikTok is facing scrutiny after allegations that its negligent practices led children to attempt various “challenge” trends that have led to serious injuries and deaths. Parents have begun to take legal action against the social media giant, arguing that its lack of content moderation and age verification put impressionable children in danger.
A recent Bloomberg story tracks TikTok’s influence on the risks underage users are taking in the name of getting views on the app. Some examples cited in recent media reports:
• In the “skull breaker” challenge, two participants trip a third unsuspecting victim; the trend has led to serious injuries like concussion.
• The “Benadryl challenge” calls for a content creator to ingest a dangerous amount of the antihistamine drug with the goal of becoming intoxicated. It has been blamed for hospitalizations and the 2020 death of a 15-year-old girl.
• In the “milk crate challenge,” a user attempts to climb a stack of crates; falls from the top of the pile have been blamed for injuries, with one doctor saying such a fall could be more dangerous than falling from a ladder.
• The “fire challenge” encourages a user to use accelerants to set an object ablaze, and has been blamed for burn injuries.
Most troubling is the recent rise in popularity of the “blackout challenge.” In this trend, users attempt to induce losing consciousness by strangling themselves using household items. The goal is to film the moments when the subject blacks out and then recovers in a state of dizziness. Attempts to join the trend have led to tragedy, particularly among young children.
At least 20 children died in an 18-month period from attempting the blackout challenge, according to Bloomberg, including 15 victims 12 years old or younger. The younger children were not even supposed to have accounts on TikTok, which claims to have an age restriction prohibiting users younger than 13. Critics have blamed the app for not enforcing its rule through the use of facial recognition technology which can analyze a photo and give an accurate estimate of the subject’s age.
Lawsuits filed by the families of deceased children have alleged TikTok not only failed to shield vulnerable children from this content, but served it to them directly, baiting the young account holders into participating in the trend. Like other social media sites, TikTok’s content is distributed through an algorithm that causes popular content to spread more rapidly.
Moderators are supposedly tasked with policing which videos are limited in their spread or removed from the site. In the case of the blackout challenge, these attempts at responsible censorship allegedly failed to keep the dangerous concept from the eyes of children as young as eight.
Industry insiders told Bloomberg the destructive fallout from the blackout challenge exposes the fallacy that TikTok’s chief concern is the safety of its users. “That’s not true,” one expert said of TikTok’s priorities. “Growth is the No. 1 priority. Being the No. 1 app in the world is the No. 1 priority. Making more money is the No. 1 priority.” In an internal document obtained by Bloomberg, TikTok strategists stated “Our ultimate goal is to increase daily active users.”
The business has had better success on these efforts than in protecting children from the spread of dangerous viral videos. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is valued at $300 billion, and the app is used by 70 percent of United States youths between 13 and 17 years old.
As of September 2022, when the family of a New Mexico boy who died attempting the blackout challenge sued, at least six wrongful death lawsuits against TikTok had been filed around the country. The Complaint in the New Mexico case alleged TikTok was providing a “dangerously defective product to millions of children.”
According to the lawsuit: “Despite knowing their product encouraged dangerous behaviors, the TikTok defendants failed to provide any warnings or safeguards that could have prevented [the boy’s] death.”
Questions About a TikTok Challenge Lawsuit? Contact a Johnson//Becker Lawyer for a Free Case Review.
If you or a loved one has been injured while attempting a TikTok challenge, you may want to speak with the lawyers at Johnson//Becker, PLLC. We are actively filing new product liability lawsuits across the country, and you may be entitled to financial compensation.
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