MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The parents of children who died last year while trying a Blackout Challenge on TikTok have sued the popular social media platform.
Arriani Jaileen Arroyo’s father, Heriberto Arroyo, found his 9-year-old daughter hanging inside their Milwaukee home in February 2021 after her younger brother reported she wasn’t moving.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the Social Media Victims Law Center. It makes similar claims on behalf of the mother of 8-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton of Temple, Texas, who says it also died by self-strangulation while trying to do the challenge last July.
The complaints contain TikTok’s algorithm continually made Blackout Challenge videos appear on the girls’ ‘for you’ pages where users see random videos they might like based on what they’ve previously watched.
The lawsuit claims TikTok knows many of its users are under 13, and that it markets to people under 13, despite user terms purporting to limit the app’s use to those 13 and older.
“TikTok has specifically curated and determined that these Blackout Challenge videos – videos featuring users who purposefully strangle themselves until losing consciousness – are appropriate and fitting for small children,” the lawsuit states.
Young users’ incomplete brain development makes them more susceptible to becoming addicted to using TikTok, and scrolling through videos designed to retain their attention for longer periods of time, according to the lawsuit.
Arriani got a phone at age 7 and soon signed up for TikTok. At first, she watched and made videos about dancing. She took ballet at school.
Then she discovered challenges.
“She would sometimes discuss these with her parents and because all of the challenges they discussed involved eating and drinking challenges, which seemed harmless and not at all dangerous, Arriani’s parents did not regard these activities as dangerous,” the suit states.
“They understood that TikTok was a family oriented social media product, marketed to and safe for children to use.”
Lalani had also been using the app to amuse herself with videos, according to the lawsuit. She had just returned from a road trip last July when her stepmother told Lalani to clean her room while her stepmother rested from the drive. After the nap, they would go swimming.
When the stepmother went to Lalani’s room about an hour later, she found the girl hanging from her bed. She had laid out her bathing suit. A neighbor freed Lalani and called 911.
Police determined Lalani died from self-asphyxiation as a direct result of attempting TikTok’s Blackout Challenge.
The lawsuit brings actions for strict liability against TikTok, based on both defective design and a failure to warn, for negligence and for violation of California’s legal consumer remedies law.
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It seeks unspecified damages, punitive damages, lost wages, medical and funeral expenses and other costs for all three plaintiffs.
TikTok officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to an inquiry left through the company’s news media contact.
Follow Bruce Vielmetti on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism