If you haven’t been already, you’re about to start hearing a lot about the so-called “blackout challenge,” which is causing an uproar online. TikTok is being sued by the families of two young girls who died, allegedly due to the viral challenge. The families call the app’s algorithms “dangerous” and blame the social media juggernaut for the children’s deaths.
What is the blackout challenge?
The blackout challenge is one of many challenges that have cropped up on social media in recent years, but it’s not exactly new. Like the “skull breaker challenge,” the “Tide Pod challenge,” or any of their ilk, this one appeared on social media and sent parents into a panic. And like the rest of them, this one’s stupid and dangerous: People are encouraged to hold their breath until they pass out, and even use belts or purse strings to choke themselves.
Two things make this challenge more notable than some of its predecessors: Numerous children are reported to have died because of it since 2021, and it has a pre-TikTok counterpart. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release warning against the “choking game,” which was essentially the same thing. Per the CDC, at least 82 people had died because of the “game” by the time they rolled out the national warning.
Why is TikTok being sued?
TikTok is facing multiple lawsuits from parents who allege their kids died of strangulation after trying the challenge. A rep for the app told The Washington Post that it had blocked users from being able to search for the challenge. I just tried to search for it on the app myself and “blackout challenge” autopopulated into the search bar, but none of the video results showed anyone actually attempting the challenge. Still, the issue isn’t that kids could potentially search for the videos, but rather that the clips are served up to them via the algorithm.
A spokesperson for TikTok told People, “This disturbing ‘challenge,’ which people seem to learn about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform and has never been a TikTok trend. We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found.”
What can parents do?
While debate over whether social media apps are responsible for dangerous content will continue (and this debate, specifically, will take place through the legal system), there are concrete steps parents can take right now to protect kids.
Talk to your kids frankly and honesty about the dangers associated with the challenge. Work with them on strategies to identify dangerous pranks and trends—like the word “challenge” or being asked to participate in a video without knowing what’s meant to happen—and responding to peer pressure in a way that feels comfortable but firm. Lifehacker’s Meghan Walbert has great tips on how to have these conversations here. Remember that digitally-native kids are pretty good at outsmarting parental controls, so don’t count on them to entirely stop kids from seeing something dangerous.