Warning: Graphic discussions of child injuries and fatalities follow below.
Remember the “choking game” that one kid convinced you to try back in junior high school? You know, the game where you get choked until you briefly pass out, usually either to earn cool points, feel sorta high, and/or piss off your parents and teachers? Well, replace “that one kid” with TikTok, and “junior high school” with the entire global population of children, and that’s pretty much the #BlackoutChallenge. And it’s not going well.
According to The Verge and other outlets, multiple families have filed lawsuits in recent months against TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, for their alleged complicity in the deaths of at least seven known children, all under the age of 15, who recently attempted the dangerous Blackout Challenge. Although TikTok stated in May that it disabled the ability to search for the challenge, parents accuse the social media site of actually introducing the stunt to their children via algorithmic promotions intended to keep users on the platform as long as possible.
Algorithms aplenty — It’s no revelation that social media platforms like TikTok are specifically engineered to encourage us to remain glued to our phones indefinitely. The longer one stays clicking and interacting on a site, the more personal data gets harvested — and the more personal data gets harvested, the more money these companies can make via selling that information to various third-party advertisers.
Algorithms are fine-tuned for this purpose, and in TikTok’s case, hashtag challenges are a vital component of their online community. It’s on TikTok to properly monitor and adjust these algorithms as needed in order to stymie obviously terrible ideas like the Blackout Challenge from reaching too many viewers, especially young kids who might not know better.
TikTok, for its part, has claimed that it has zero responsibility for these children’s deaths since “choking game” variations have been around for decades. That’s certainly one legal strategy to take right now... Is the social media platform accessory to murder? No, of course not. But it has a responsibility to do much better than it has been when actual lives are on the line. And federal courts could easily agree with us on that one.