Report: Blackout Challenge Is Killing a Kid Per Month

Bloomberg looks at how TikTok's growth goals conflict with moderation needs
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2022 11:32 AM CST
Report: Blackout Challenge Is Killing a Kid Per Month
The TikTok logo is seen on a phone in Boston on Oct. 14, 2022.   (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Lawsuits linking TikTok to children's deaths only point to a problem that continues to risk lives behind the headlines, according to Bloomberg, which finds the "blackout challenge" has been linked to the deaths of at least 20 children aged 14 and younger within the last 18 months. Fifteen of those kids were 12 or under. Videos encouraging people to choke themselves to the point of passing out have spread on social media platforms including TikTok in recent years. As Bloomberg reports, "it's a modern incarnation of choking dares that have been around for decades, only now they're being delivered to children by powerful social media algorithms and reaching those too young to fully grasp the risk."

Judy Rogg of nonprofit Erik's Cause, whose son died while playing the game in 2010, has linked it to the deaths of 33 children under 13 since 2018. She notes cases may go unreported, "misclassified as suicide"—Insider dives into the debate over whether the TikTok challenge played a role in 12-year-old Archie Battersbee's death—as a link to the challenge can only be proved through a psychological review or a forensic analysis of devices. Bloomberg's tally comes from news reports, court records, and interviews with family members, many of whom are pushing for change. TikTok says it takes "each and every report of an alleged dangerous act or challenge incredibly seriously" and works to remove dangerous content along with the accounts of underage users.

But TikTok's investigations are "designed to deflect blame" and often focus on the individuals' use of multiple social media platforms, per Bloomberg, which describes the tensions between privacy and safety and growth and moderation, including the enforcement of age rules. It notes TikTok has declined to filter users with facial-recognition technology that provides accurate predictions of age without identifying the individual. The same technology guessed Arriani Arroyo, who used her real photo on TikTok and choked herself to death three months before her 10th birthday, to be 10. As Bloomberg notes, "any friction introduced by age verification is antithetical" to the company's ultimate goal. More on that from Bloomberg. (Read more TikTok stories.)

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