The parents of two young girls who purportedly perished as a result of a trending TikTok challenge have filed a lawsuit against the social media site, blaming its “dangerous” algorithms for their daughters’ passing.
A lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the Los Angeles county superior court on behalf of the parents of two girls who perished in the 2021 “blackout challenge” on TikTok, which urged users to choke themselves unconscious.
They claim that the platform’s “dangerous algorithm” intentionally and repeatedly pushed videos of the challenge into the children’s feeds, incentivizing them to participate in the challenge that ultimately claimed their lives. The SMVLC is a legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media addiction and abuse.
TikTok has to be held responsible for exposing these two young girls to dangerous content, according to Matthew P. Bergman, the SMVLC’s first counsel. “TikTok has spent billions of dollars designing devices that purposefully push risky content that it knows is hazardous and could cause the consumers’ lives.”
Lalani Erika Renee Walton, 8, of Temple, Texas, one of the victims, is remembered as “an wonderfully sweet and extroverted young girl” who “liked dressing up as a princess and playing with cosmetics.” According to the complaint, she passed away on July 15, 2021, as a “direct result of undertaking TikTok’s “Blackout Challenge,” as determined by authorities.
For her eighth birthday in April 2021, Lalani received a phone, and the lawsuit claimed that she “immediately developed an addiction to watching TikTok videos.” She frequently shared videos of herself dancing and singing in the aim of becoming well-known on TikTok.
Lalani’s family started discovering bruises on her neck in July 2021, which she tried to explain away as an accident. They had no idea that she had started the blackout challenge, which had initially appeared on her feed weeks earlier.
On the day of her death, Lalani had spent hours watching videos, including posts from the challenge, while travelling with her family.
She also thought that posting a video of herself performing the Blackout Challenge would make her famous, so she decided to try it, according to the complaint. When Lalani was eight years old, she was too young to see or comprehend the risk in what TikTok was encouraging her to do.
Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, 9, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the other victim in the lawsuit, obtained a phone when she was seven years old and frequently utilised TikTok, the complaint claims. She “gradually grew compulsive” and “addicted” to TikTok, where she posted dance videos.
The incidence of a young TikTok user dying as a result of a challenge was brought up to Arriani’s family in January 2021, but she gave them her word that she would never take part in risky videos.
However, her five-year-old brother discovered her unresponsive on February 26, 2021. She was taken off life support after being brought to a nearby hospital.
The complaint states that TikTok “unquestionably knew” that the lethal Blackout Challenge was being transmitted via their app and that their algorithm was purposefully feeding the challenge to minors, including those who had already died.
In the case, TikTok is accused of a number of wrongdoings, including allowing users under the age of 18 to use the app and failing to inform users or their legal guardians of the platform’s addictive nature.
Requests for comment from TikTok did not immediately receive a response.
The business has already come under fire for allowing harmful challenges to proliferate. According to medical professionals, the “milk crate challenge” of 2021, which urged participants to stack and scale milk crates, resulted in shoulder dislocations, ACL tears, and even spinal cord injuries. A 15-year-old girl passed away in 2020 after taking part in the “Benadryl challenge,” which required participants to take a lot of antihistamines in an effort to experience hallucinatory effects. Following their participation in the “skull breaker” challenge in 2020, which resulted in one victim having a seizure, two minors were charged with assault.
Attorneys for the SMVLC asserted that the platform’s operator deliberately permitted the spread of such content because it enhanced user engagement, user numbers, and, eventually, revenue.
They claimed that TikTok put larger corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of its users, particularly the vulnerable children who TikTok knew or should have known were actively utilising its social media product.
The Walton and Arroyo families have asked for a jury trial to take place in California and are requesting an undetermined amount in damages.