KEY POINTS

  • Two girls died in separate incidents last year after TikTok fed them videos of the "blackout challenge"
  • Wrongful death lawsuits filed against TikTok accused the company of pushing content detrimental to minors
  • The app was called a defective product engineered to be addictive to maximize ad revenue

Two girls died last year while attempting to participate in a trend they saw on TikTok, lawsuits recently filed against the social media company alleged.

Lalani Erika Walton and Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, aged 8 and 9, respectively, died in two separate incidents involving the "blackout challenge," a viral trend on TikTok that encouraged its users to choke themselves into unconsciousness, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Walton's stepmother found her daughter "hanging from her bed with a rope around her neck" last year, according to wrongful death lawsuits filed before the Los Angeles County Superior Court Friday.

Meanwhile, Arroyo's father found his daughter "hanging from the family's dog leash" in her bedroom in February of the same year, the documents indicated.

TikTok fed both girls with videos associated with the blackout challenge before their deaths, the suits by law firm Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC) alleged.

Bruises had appeared on Walton's neck before she died, which were the result of a fall, the girl told her family in July last year.

She was watching blackout challenge videos "on repeat" at the time, police, who took Walton's phone and tablet, later told her stepmother.

Walton, of Texas, was "under the belief that if she posted a video of herself doing the blackout challenge, then she would become famous."

Similarly, Arroyo, from Milwaukee, "gradually became obsessive" about TikTok as she posted song and dance videos on the app, said SMVLC, a self-proclaimed "legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media."

The firm described TikTok as a defective product engineered to be addictive for maximum ad revenue without offering users and their parents adequate safety features.

TikTok views both user retention and the time that users remain on the app as key success metrics, per leaked documents.

"TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design and develop its product to encourage, enable, and push content to teens and children that defendant knows to be problematic and highly detrimental to its minor users' mental health," the lawsuits stated, according to a report by the New York Post.

As the blackout challenge was spreading through the app and was being fed to children by the algorithm, TikTok "knew or should have known that failing to take immediate and significant action to extinguish the spread of the deadly blackout challenge would result in more injuries and deaths, especially among children," the suits alleged

It was not clear what kind of relief the suits were seeking from the court.

TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The company, currently headquartered in California, denied in the past that the blackout challenge was a TikTok trend and pointed to instances before the app's release of children dying from "the choking game."

The former children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says that behind TikTok's fun songs and dances "lies something far more sinister.
The former children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says that behind TikTok's fun songs and dances "lies something far more sinister. AFP / LOIC VENANCE
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