For many TikTok users, the social media app’s trends come and go every few months, but for the families of nine-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo and eight-year-old Lalani Erika Renee Walton, one viral TikTok challenge will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Arriani of Milwaukee, Wis. and Lalani of Temple, Texas both participated in the viral “blackout challenge” which became popular on the app last year. The dangerous challenge involves holding your breath until you pass out, and in a nightmarish result, the girls were both found unconscious by their families after hanging themselves with household items. TikTok is now facing a wrongful death lawsuit for their deaths.
According to the Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC) which is representing both families, Arriani initially used TikTok to post videos of herself dancing and singing, but later began participating in popular challenges. The lawsuit states that the challenges typically involved eating or dancing and didn’t signify any danger to her parents.
On Feb. 26, 2021, Arriani was found by her 5-year-old brother hanging by a dog’s leash in her bedroom. After her father called 911, she was rushed to the hospital where it was determined that she had permanent brain damage and complete loss of brain function. Her family made the decision to remove her from life support.
Like Arriani, Lalani first started using TikTok to post videos of herself singing and dancing. In July 2021, the 8-year-old, who received her first cell phone for her eighth birthday, decided to participate in the “blackout challenge” while her stepmother took a nap.
Her stepmother later found Lalani “hanging from her bed with a rope around her neck, still warm to the touch,” according to the SMVLC news release. When officers arrived, she had already died from self-asphyxiation.
SMVLC calls TikTok “an addictive product that is not safe for users,” echoing similar claims made by attorney Jeffrey Goodman who is representing the family of a Pennsylvania girl who also died from attempting the “blackout challenge.” Goodman explained that the app’s “For You” page is generated by an algorithm to get users, who are predominantly children, addicted to the app.
This isn’t the first time that a viral TikTok challenge has resulted in death or injury. Although these trends commonly include dancing or cooking certain types of food, others have proven to be dangerous, such as:
- The #BenadrylChallenge
- Users took more than the recommended dosage of Benadryl to experience hallucinations. At least one teenager died as a result of this challenge.
- The #ChaChaSlide Challenge
- Instead of dancing to the DJ Casper dance anthem, this challenge encouraged users to record themselves driving recklessly — swerving all over the road and even into oncoming traffic — to the beat of the song. While no accidents were reported, participants encountered some close calls.
- The #NutmegChallenge
- Users consumed a dangerously high amount of nutmeg in order to document their experience. One teenager ended up in the emergency room after participating in the challenge.
With over 80 million monthly active users in the United States, 32.5% of those users are ages 10 to 19. According to a TikTok survey reported by SMVLC, one in 50 teens admitted to participating in these dangerous challenges.
“TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows are dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users,” said the founding attorney of SMVLC Matthew P. Bergman.
Even though TikTok’s community guidelines prohibit videos “depicting, promoting, normalizing or glorifying dangerous acts that may lead to serious injury or death,” the deaths of these young girls indicate that more must be done to protect the app’s users.
If you or someone you know was injured as a result of a social media challenge, contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Custodio & Dubey LLP. With over 25 years of experience, our lawyers will guide you at every step of the way to help you receive the justice you deserve.