The families of two young girls who accidentally hanged themselves last year while trying a viral challenge on TikTok are suing the popular social media platform.
Eight-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton of Temple, Texas and nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo of Milwaukee, Wisconsin both died in 2021 while allegedly attempting a viral challenge called the “Blackout Challenge.” The challenge involves choking yourself until you pass out in order to achieve a euphoric feeling upon waking up.
Arriani’s father found his daughter hanging inside their home in February 2021 after her younger brother reported she wasn’t moving.
Lalani’s stepmother found her hanging from her bed with a rope around her neck in July 2021.
The police, who took Lalani’s phone and tablet, later told her stepmother that the girl had been watching blackout challenge videos “on repeat,” the suit says.
The lawsuit claims TikTok’s “dangerous” algorithms are to blame for the children’s death, saying the algorithm continually made Blackout Challenge videos appear on the girls’ ‘for you’ pages where users see random videos they might like based on what they’ve previously watched.
“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,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit also claims that TikTok not only knows many of its users are under 13-years-old but it markets to people under 13, despite the app’s terms of agreement that state the app is for people age 13 and older.
“TikTok has specifically curated and determined that these Blackout Challenge videos — videos featuring users who purposefully strangulate themselves until losing consciousness — are appropriate and fitting for small children,” the lawsuit states.
“TikTok needs to be held accountable for pushing deadly content to these two young girls,” said Matthew P Bergman, founding attorney of the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC). “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.”
In December 2021, another young girl died while allegedly attempting the Blackout Challenge. Tawainna Anderson found her 10-year-old daughter Nylah Anderson unconscious and hanging in her bedroom closet by her neck from a purse strap. Nylah was rushed to the hospital where she was in the intensive care unit for several days before she died.
Nylah’s mother is also suing TikTok, saying the app’s algorithm is responsible for her daughter’s death. The suit also lists other fatalities that resulted from the challenge, which include a 10-year-old girl in Italy on Jan. 21, 2021; 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus on March 22, 2021; a 14-year-old boy in Australia on June 14, 2021; and a 12-year-old boy from Oklahoma in July 2021. All of these children allegedly learned about the challenge on their “For You Page.”
TikTok released the following statement in December when Nylah’s death first came to light.
“This disturbing ‘challenge,’ which people seem to learn about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform and has never been a TikTok trend. We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
The Walton and Arroyo families are seeking an unspecified amount in damages and have requested a jury trial to take place in California.