TikTok sued over death of 10-year-old in 'blackout challenge'

PHILADELPHIA • TikTok has been blamed in a lawsuit for the death of a 10-year-old girl who allegedly participated in an online challenge in which people choke themselves until they black out.

Nylah Anderson, an intelligent child who could speak three languages, was found unconscious in her bedroom in Philadelphia on Dec 7, according to a complaint filed on Thursday in federal court. She spent five days in a paediatric intensive care unit before succumbing to her injuries.

Her family accused the social media platform of marketing a defective product and negligence, saying in their suit that the dangerous dare "was thrust in front" of the girl by TikTok on her "for you" page.

The "algorithm determined that the deadly blackout challenge was well-tailored and likely to be of interest to 10-year-old Nylah Anderson and she died as a result", according to the complaint, which also names TikTok parent company ByteDance as a defendant.

In a previous statement issued in response to the complaint, TikTok said the "challenge, which people seem to learn about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform".

TikTok remains vigilant in its commitment to user safety and would remove any content related to the blackout challenge from its app, a company spokesman said, adding "our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss".

The TikTok case joins others that accuse social media companies of wrongful deaths, including one over a car crash that killed three young men who were allegedly using a Snapchat speedometer feature to record themselves driving at more than 193kmh, and another linking a 16-year-old's suicide to an Instagram addiction.

At least four other children have died doing the blackout challenge, according to the Andersons' suit. Participants choke themselves with household items like a shoelace or power cord until they black out for a few seconds and then capture the euphoric rush they get regaining consciousness.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline TikTok sued over death of 10-year-old in 'blackout challenge'. Subscribe