*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.
The families of two young victims of a deadly TikTok challenge are taking the social media platform to court.
The Guardian reported that in separate incidents, eight-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton and nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo passed away in 2021 while taking part in a "blackout challenge" for TikTok videos. The trend involved content creators self-asphyxiating.
The families are being represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), which is described by the Guardian as, "a legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media addiction and abuse."
As explained by Dot.LA, social media companies are legally protected Section 230 of the United States Communications Decency Act, a federal law that mostly protects websites from being held responsible for any hate speech, misinformation, or slander that users may post.
To combat that legal precedent, the complaint filed by SMVLC founder Matthew Bergman, who is also acting as the families' lawyer, states that the sharing platform has a dangerous and defective recommendation algorithm - one that repeatedly exposes children like Walton and Arroyo to dangerous content.
The lawsuit also claims that TikTok does nothing to prevent underage users from signing up, and fails to warn users or their legal guardians of the app's addictive nature.
TikTok has faced similar criticism in the past for allowing dangerous challenges to become viral.
In 2020, a 15-year-old died after ingesting a large amount of Benadryl for the platform's "Benadryl challenge."
That same year, the "skull breaker challenge", which involved two people targeting a third by sweeping their legs out from under them so that they would fall, head hitting the ground, led to two minors being charged with assault, after their victim suffered a seizure.
In 2021, the "milk crate challenge" encouraged users to stack and climb milk crates, often leading to falls that resulted in injuries, from dislocated shoulders, to serious spinal cord injuries.
In a statement, SMVLC accused TikTok of knowingly promoting such dangerous challenges for the usage and profit it brings:
“TikTok prioritized greater corporate profits over the health and safety of its users and, specifically, over the health and safety of vulnerable children TikTok knew or should have known were actively using its social media product."
In the past, TikTok deflected blame for the dangerous "blackout challenge" by claiming such games pre-dated the platform. The company has yet to comment on the recent lawsuit.The suit has been filed at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, with the victims' families requesting a jury trial and an undisclosed amount in damages.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available athttps://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/