Parents sue TikTok after daughter dies trying to challenge social media

Courtesy of the Arroyo family

(NEW YORK) — A Wisconsin family is suing TikTok after their 9-year-old daughter died while attempting the so-called “blackout challenge” popularized on social media.

Arriani Jaileen Arroyo died of asphyxiation on February 26, 2021. Now her family, along with the parents of 8-year-old Lalani Walton, of Texas, who also died of asphyxiation by strangulation on July 15, 2021, have come together with the Social Media Victims Law Center to file a lawsuit against TikTok on behalf of their daughters.

“It’s not easy waking up every day and knowing that your little girl is never coming back,” Arriani’s mother, Christal Arroyo Roman, told ABC News. hello america Saturday. “You will never hear her voice, you will never see her smile or hear her say ‘I love you’.”

Arriani was everything to his family. Her mother said she was a smart and stylish little diva who loved doing nails, dancing and would give away her coat to those she loved. Like many kids across the country, she also enjoyed keeping up with social media trends, including food challenges and learning new dances.

“We just never thought there was a darker side to what TikTok allows on its platform,” Roman said.

In the wake of the two girls’ deaths, the Arroyos and Walton’s family are taking to TikTok for answers. The Arroyos told ABC News the families are speaking out in hopes of preventing other children from falling victim to the same crushing fate as their daughters.

“We just want people to be aware, because we don’t want any other child to be a statistic of this situation again,” said Arriani’s father, Heriberto Arroyo Roman. “We want to make sure we can save other children.”

According to the June 30 lawsuit filed by the Social Media Victims Law Center on behalf of the families, several children from different states and countries died last year of asphyxiation after attempting the same “blackout challenge” — in which children choke until they pass out – reportedly suggested to them on their TikTok “For You” pages.

The lawsuit specifically claims that “at all relevant times, TikTok’s algorithm was designed to promote ‘TikTok Challenges’ to younger users in order to increase their engagement and maximize profits from TikTok.”

He also claims that the company was aware that some of the challenges allegedly promoted to young people could be deadly, but failed to act to correct the problem.

“TikTok has taken no outrageous and/or completely inadequate measures to extinguish and prevent the spread of the Blackout Challenge and specifically to prevent its algorithm from directing children to the Blackout Challenge, despite the notice and/or predictability that a such failure would inevitably lead to more injuries and deaths, including those of children,” the lawsuit reads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different versions of the challenge — sometimes called a “choking game” — have been around for years and predate social media. But the lawsuit claims that TikTok’s endless timeline algorithm exposed children to these trends with deadly results.

Matthew Bergman, founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and lead attorney handling the case, told ABC News that the lawsuit focused on TikTok’s profitability concerns, allegedly disregarding the adverse effects its engineering could have on the youngest users of the platform.

“It’s about saving children,” Bergman said. “Let’s be clear, children are sent to these challenges by TikTok algorithms. It’s not an accident and it’s not a coincidence. »

Bergman and the Arroyo family claim that tragic events like the deaths of Arriani and Lalani were predictable and preventable by TikTok, which they say promotes “artificial addiction,” according to the complaint.

“Artificial addiction,” as defined by the lawsuit, is a familiar feature on many popular social media platforms and includes “bottomless scrolling, tagging, notifications, and live stories.”

“TikTok designs its social media product to keep users, and especially younger users, engaged longer and coming back for more,” the complaint alleges.

Reached for comment, a TikTok spokesperson pointed ABC News to a statement the company released last year about the challenge, but did not respond to allegations that the platform’s algorithms directed children to dangerous content.

“This disturbing ‘challenge’, which people seem to know about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform and has never trended on TikTok. We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and will remove it immediately. related content if found. Our deepest condolences go out to the family for their tragic loss,” the previous statement read.

Currently, searching for the hashtag “blackout challenge” on TikTok redirects users to the app’s Community Guidelines, which is usually done when certain hashtags are linked to harmful activity.

Experts warn of the danger of gamification of disturbing trends online

Dr Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, warned parents about the risks of talking with young children who are on social media.

“If you see something online and you see people portraying it as fun, challenging, or something interesting, you kind of gamify the particular thing and reduce people’s perception of risk,” said Anderson, addressing CMG Saturday. “So to call it a ‘blackout’ challenge is branding.”

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Wellesley Centers for Women and director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Lab, specializes in early childhood adolescence research and said surveillance is not enough because even the most “watching carefully”. parent” can miss a crucial moment when a young child can be tricked into harming themselves through social media.

“[Children] have that confidence that nothing bad is going to happen to them,” Charmaraman told ABC News. “And they don’t think as carefully as someone who is two or four years older, that there could be consequences not only for their physical health but also for their mental health, for their spiritual health.”

Charmaraman suggested parents “continue to have dialogues and enlist their village” to engage in conversations with children about the content they consume on social media platforms to help them stay safe.

“It’s not a much-talked-about situation,” Charmaraman said. “It’s kind of an ongoing exploration and partnership.”

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