TIKTOK logos are seen on smartphones in front of displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration. File picture: IANS
TIKTOK logos are seen on smartphones in front of displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration. File picture: IANS

TikTok’s Blackout Challenge takes on deadly tone, parents warned to be vigilant

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published May 3, 2021

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Over the years, we’ve seen online challenges come and go. It’s when it veers into dangerous ground that concerned parents start taking note.

The latest online challenge to catch the world’s attention is the TikTok “Blackout” challenge. Although not entirely new, the challenge is not exclusive to TikTok, and originated in 2018 as the Pass Out challenge on YouTube, TIME reported.

But it appears the new rendition is a much dangerous and deadlier version, and with 10 billion downloads and millions of daily active users, screenrant.com reported that it reaches a much wider audience, raising concerns over protecting community members.

How it works

According to screenrant, the Blackout Challenge is almost purpose-designed to be dangerous, as it encourages users to choke themselves until the point of losing consciousness while uploading the results to TikTok.

Deadly consequences

In January this year, Newsweek reported that a 10-year-old girl in Italy had died after attempting to do the challenge.

According to news reports, the child was said to have tied a belt around her neck as part of the challenge, which encourages people to try and pass out by restricting their airflow.

At the time of the incident, TikTok released a statement to Newsweek, saying: "Our deepest sympathies are with the girl's family and friends. We do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous behaviour that might lead to injury, and our teams work diligently to identify and remove content that violates our policies.

"While we have not currently found evidence of content on our platform that might have encouraged such an incident off-platform, we will continue to monitor closely as part of our continuous commitment to keep our community safe. We will also assist the relevant authorities with their investigation as appropriate."

The latest incident involved a 12-year-old boy in Colorado, US. Joshua Haileyesus had been on life support in hospital for three weeks before succumbing to the damage inflicted.

Parents warned to be cautious

Social media is tipping the scales in favour of peer pressure, say experts.

"Kids are biologically built to become much more susceptible to peers in adolescence, and social media has magnified those peer influence processes to be much, much more dangerous than they were before," Mitchell Prinstein, chief science officer at the American Psychological Association, told USA Today.

In 2018, a similar online challenge called the Fire Challenge also took on an ominous tone.

When the Skull Breaker Challenge started gathering steam here in South Africa last year, it prompted Dr Bianca Visser, an emergency medicine practitioner at the emergency department of Netcare Unitas Hospital, to urge parents to seek medical attention if their child received a blow to the head.

Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Rafiq Lockhat also gave some context as to why these dangerous challenges go viral.

"You don't need to do anything special to become popular. This proves that a) anyone can do this and b) you can instantly become famous if you have a thousand likes,“ he said.

It's a novelty that's become ingrained into a teen's mind. He's of the opinion that there's a real risk that the video that gets the most hits is the one where someone will get hurt. "The consequences are irrelevant. Many young people are vulnerable to this," he said.

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