Parents are suing social media platform TikTok claiming that one of the challenges on the app led to the death of their children. The lawsuit pits parent responsibility against what some allege is the platform’s deliberate targeting of children.
In a disturbing story, two sets of parents have filed a lawsuit against TikTok after their daughters — who were ages 8 and 9 — died after allegedly trying to perform what’s called the Blackout Challenge, where people are told to share videos essentially strangling themselves until they lose consciousness.
The lawsuit accuses TikTok of enticing young users to become addicted to its platform and then promotes content that can convince them to harm themselves. The parents allege that TikTok doesn’t provide adequate warnings to deter young users or inform their parents about the addictive nature of the app or these potentially deadly challenges.
The parents say TikTok promotes harmful content, and the app is designed to be addictive. They want the company to pay damages related to the deaths of their children.
Matthew Bergman, a lawyer representing the parents and founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center, told Morning Wire, “there are over 12 children in the United States that we know of who have died from the TikTok Blackout Challenge [and] 40 children in the Pacific region who have died of it as well.”
“The goal of this lawsuit is to hold this company accountable for designing a product with an algorithm that directs young children to content that causes them to engage in this very dangerous and in many cases, fatal activity,” he said.
He noted that TikTok had created documents that have been leaked showing how their goal is, “first and foremost, engaging young users with their product for as long and as intensely as they possibly can. And they’ve designed algorithms, expressly designed one to addict kids into understanding the nature of human psychology.”
A spokesperson for TikTok told The New York Times that the company wouldn’t be providing comment on continuing litigation. However, the rep did reference a statement from December in which the company responded to a People magazine report about another child who allegedly died while doing the same challenge.
The statement 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,” and included a link to a CDC report about children and teens dying from a “choking game” in the late 90s and early 2000s. The statement also said, “We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
The claim that TikTok is deliberately targeting kids has been made before. Earlier this year, several bipartisan attorneys general from around the nation started an investigation into TikTok over its promotion to kids. They were specifically trying to determine if TikTok was breaking state consumer protection laws and placing children in harm’s way. This year, the app is expected to make $12 billion on advertising due to its popularity among young people.
It also recently announced it would create a rating system to help stop minors from viewing inappropriate videos. It will also impact what is shown on the “For You” pages, and users will have the option to adjust their “For You” pages, which is something the lawsuit heavily discusses — that these “For You” pages can direct kids to harmful content.