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Families sue TikTok over 'blackout challenge' allegedly leading to girls' deaths

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com
Families sue TikTok over 'blackout challenge' allegedly leading to girls' deaths
This file photo taken on November 21, 2019 shows the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris.
AFP/Lionel Bonaventure

MANILA, Philippines — Two families have filed lawsuits against TikTok after two girls allegedly died performing the viral "blackout challenge" which was circulating on the social media platform last year.

The parents of the deceased girls, represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), claim that TikTok's “dangerous” algorithms are to blame as they "intentionally and repeatedly” pushed videos of the challenge into their children’s feeds.

SMVLC's founder, legal counsel Matthew Bergman, said that TikTok must be held accountable for pushing such deadly content: “TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows is dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users.”

The lawsuit also mentions other children who allegedly died attempting the blackout challenge in 2021. TikTok responded in the past that they block users from searching the said challenge and instead put up a warning sign.

This new lawsuit, however, claims TikTok themselves pushed the content onto children's feeds. A spokesperson for TikTok only reiterated their previous statement, "This disturbing ‘challenge’ long predates our platform and has never been a TikTok trend."

The statement also said TikTok would immediately remove such content and anything related to it as they value users' safety, and offered their condolences to the families.

Related: TikTok strengthens digital literacy advocacy, reiterates commitment to stamp out misinformation on platform

Both girls, prior to their deaths, were engrossed with using TikTok especially for its dance videos, makeup tutorials, and challenges; this includes the so-called blackout challenge which involves users to choke or strangle themselves on video until they black out.

Other challenges that have gone viral on TikTok include the milk crate challenge, the Benadryl challenge, and the "skull breaker" challenge, all of which result in criticisms toward the social media platform.

At the time of the girls' deaths last year, they were only eight and nine years old.

“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, including those who have died,” reads the complaint by the families.

SMVLC also claimed that TikTok prioritizes greater corporate profits over the health and safety of its users, especially young children.

The families of the girls filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles last week and are seeking an unspecified amount in damages, as well as requesting a jury trial.

RELATED: TikTok defends platform amid concerns over political disinformation

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