Parents sue TikTok for promoting viral ‘Blackout Challenge’ that killed their daughters
Eight-year-old Lalani Erika Walton from Tennessee died in July 2021 while Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, 9, from Milwaukee, killed herself in February 2021
WARNING: This article contains information about suicide and suicide ideation that some people may find triggering or upsetting. Discretion is advised.
Two sets of devastated parents are suing TikTok after their daughters — aged eight and nine — took their lives after allegedly being influenced by the app’s ‘Blackout Challenge’. Eight-year-old Lalani Erika Walton from Tennessee reportedly died last year in July while nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo from Milwaukee accidentally killed herself in February 2021.
Now, both the girls’ families have claimed that their kids were not suicidal and it was TikTok’s algorithm, showing the deadly challenge continuously on their “for you” feed, that was responsible for the tragedies. “For you” is the social media app’s homepage that shows users videos that are apparently based on their likes and what they have seen or liked before.
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On Friday, July 1, Walton and Jaileen’s families filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The former was discovered in her bedroom “hanging from her bed with a rope around her neck” while the second one was seen “hanging from the family dog's leash” in her family home’s basement. Jaileen was taken to hospital but she could not be saved. The suit also claimed that when police arrived at Walton’s place and checked her phone and tablet, they found she had been seeing the clips of blackout challenge “on repeat”.
Walton and Jaileen’s cases reportedly are quite similar to Nylah Anderson of Philadelphia. She also accidentally took her own life when she was choking herself with a purse strap after watching the challenge video on TikTok. Her mother Tawainna said in a lawsuit: “Nylah endured hellacious suffering as she struggled and fought for breath and slowly asphyxiated until near the point of death.” She breathed her last in December last year in the pediatric ICU.
However, before any lawsuits were filed by the children’s parents, TikTok had said: “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.”
But the Social Media Victims Law Center's complaint accused the Chinese-owned company of making ‘Blackout Challenge’ popular. It stated: “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. The company knew or should have known that failing to take immediate and significant action to extinguish the spread of the deadly Blackout Challenge would result in more injuries and deaths, especially among children.”
Meanwhile, a Daily Mail report included one way for adults on the platform to help prevent tragedies. It advised them to report any and all videos promoting such dangerous "challenges" to TikTok admins. “To report the Blackout Challenge on TikTok: Click on the white arrow on the right-hand side of the video. Press the icon that says 'report' with a flag symbol. Select 'suicide, self-harm and dangerous acts'". Please call the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) if anyone asks you or anyone you know to do the challenge.