The families of two young girls who are believed to have died following a viral TikTok challenge have sued the social media platform, claiming its “dangerous” algorithms are responsible for the deaths of their children.
Parents of two girls who died in a 2021 ‘blackout challenge’ on TikTok that encouraged users to choke themselves until they passed out filed a lawsuit in court on Tuesday Superior of Los Angeles County.
Represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children social media addiction and abuse, they allege the platform’s “dangerous algorithm intentionally and repeatedly” pushed videos of the challenge into children’s feeds, tricking them into participating in the challenge that ultimately cost them their lives.
“TikTok must be held accountable for pushing deadly content to these two young girls,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding lawyer of SMVLC. “TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that deliver dangerous content that it knows is harmful and can lead to the death of its users.”
One of the victims, eight-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton of Temple, Texas, is described as “an extremely sweet and outgoing young girl” who “loved dressing up as a princess and playing with makeup”. She died on July 15, 2021 in what police determined was “a direct result of TikTok’s ‘Blackout Challenge’ attempt,” according to the complaint.
Lalani had received a phone for her eighth birthday in April 2021 and “quickly became addicted to watching TikTok videos,” according to the complaint. She often posted videos of herself singing and dancing, hoping to become “TikTok famous”.
In July 2021, her family began noticing bruises on Lalani’s neck, which they explained as an accident. Unbeknownst to them, she had started participating in the blackout challenge, which had first appeared on her feed weeks before.
On the day of his death, Lalani had spent hours on a family road trip watching videos, including posts about the challenge.
“She was also convinced that if she posted a video of herself doing the Blackout Challenge, she would become famous, so she decided to give it a try,” the complaint stated. “Lalani was eight at the time and didn’t appreciate or understand the dangerous nature of what TikTok was encouraging her to do.”
The other victim named in the lawsuit, nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was given a phone when she was seven and used TikTok several times a day, according to the complaint. She “gradually became obsessed” with posting dance videos on TikTok and became “addicted” to the app.
In January 2021, Arriani’s family discussed with her an incident of a young TikTok user dying from a challenge, but the Arriani’s assured them that she would never participate in dangerous videos.
However, on February 26, 2021, she was found unbreathing by her five-year-old brother. She was rushed to a local hospital but was eventually taken off life support.
“TikTok was beyond doubt aware that the Deadly Blackout Challenge was being spread through their app and that their algorithm was specifically powering the Blackout Challenge for children, including those who have died,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit lists a number of complaints against TikTok, including that its algorithm promotes harmful content, allows underage users on the app, and fails to warn users or their legal guardians about the addictive nature of the app. .
TikTok did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The company has been criticized in the past for allowing dangerous challenges to spread. Doctors have reported that the 2021 “Milk Crate Challenge,” which encouraged users stacking and climbing milk crates, has resulted in dislocated shoulders, ACL tears and even spinal cord injuries. In 2020, a A 15-year-old girl died after participating in the “Benadryl Challenge”, in which users took a large amount of anti-histamines in an attempt to produce hallucinogenic effects. In 2020, two minors have been accused with aggression after participating in the “skull cracker” challenge, which caused a victim to have a seizure.
Lawyers for SMVLC claimed that the company knowingly allowed this content to proliferate on the platform because it increased engagement, user count, and ultimately profits.
“TikTok has prioritized increasing corporate profits over the health and safety of its users and, in particular, the health and safety of vulnerable children whom TikTok knew or should have known that they were actively using his social media product,” they said.
The Walton and Arroyo families are seeking an undetermined amount of damages and have requested that a jury trial be held in California.