When 10-year-old Nylah Anderson choked herself to death last December, she became one of dozens of kids and teens to die participating in TikTok’s viral “BlackoutChallenge.”
Now, her mother, Tawainna Anderson, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against TikTok for allowing the age-old schoolyard game to be repopularized on its platform—and she wants others to be able to do the same.
To compete in the online challenge, participants choke themselves until they pass out. Although the so-called “game” dates back to the early 1900s, Tawainna Anderson’s lawsuit alleges it’s wildly irresponsible and ultimately negligent for TikTok to allow those videos to proliferate online now.
“Tragically, Nylah Anderson is just the latest in a growing list of children killed as a result of the TikTok Defendants’ app and algorithm,” the lawsuit, which was shared with VICE News, reads. It was filed against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, Inc. in U.S. district court Thursday.
It’s not clear how many young people have died participating on TikTok specifically, but at least 82 children and teens between the ages of 6 and 19 have died playing the game, according to a 2010 report by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, at least four children, including a Bethany, Oklahoma, boy last July, died worldwide, according to the lawsuit,
Since the spate of child deaths last year, TikTok no longer allows users to find content related to the game under the hashtag #Blackout.
TikTok did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment but told NBC News that it’s not responsible for the creation of the deadly trend.
“We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found," the company told the outlet. "Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
On December 7, 2021, Tawainna Anderson discovered her daughter unconscious in her closet. After several CPR attempts and being rushed to the hospital by emergency responders, the young girl was placed in the ICU. Five days later, Nyla had succumbed to her injuries.
The lawsuit argues that TikTok’s algorithm, which is meant to surface content users want to see based on their demographics, determined the challenge would interest Nylah and shared videos on her “Just For You” page.
“Nylah was my child but she could have been anyone’s son or daughter that is attracted
to what they see on social media,” Tawainna Anderson said in a press release. “We can’t let what happened to Nylah happen again.”
Tawainna Anderson is asking for monetary compensation for her loss as well as the right for anyone who’s lost a loved one to these sorts of challenges the ability to sue as well.
The lawsuit names a number of dangerous viral challenges that have popped up on the social media service in the last few years, including the Fire Challenge, where users douse themselves in a flammable liquid and set themselves ablaze, and the popular Milkcrate challenge in which participants try to scale a flimsily stacked pile of crates without falling.
The Blackout Challenge however, predates TikTok. The so-called “game” dates as far back as the 1930s, according to Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, or GASP, an organization founded in 2005 specifically to raise awareness about the dangers of the game. It’s been called many names over the years, including “flatliner,” “California High” and “the choking game” but has always been done the same way.
Year after year, these old challenges go viral and create storms of controversy in the real world. Earlier this year, the so-called Orbeez challenge, which involved people shooting little plastic pellets at unsuspecting people from airsoft guns, pushed several police departments around the country to address the dangers of the viral act. Though the pellets are thought to be harmless, numerous incidents have been reported where police officers and armed citizens have confused the projectiles being fired for real bullets.
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