TikTok is no stranger to viral trends. From blending whey protein and coffee and exercises for improving your sex game to meme-able ways to talk about vaccinations, the “blackout challenge” is just the latest one to hit the platform—except this one can harm users and even lead to death.
The “blackout challenge” has been around since at least 2008, according to People, but it started making the rounds on TikTok again back in 2021. Experts have warned young users not to try the trend, which was linked to more than 80 deaths back when it first emerged, per the CDC.
Still, parents are struggling to stay on top of all the challenges that end up on their children’s screens. And many of them are turning to TikTok for answers, including the family of 9-year-old Arriani Arroyo.
Arriani was found dead in February of 2021 after participating in the blackout challenge, and her parents are filing a lawsuit against TikTok in hopes of keeping other kids safe and avoiding another death, according to the family’s attorney Matthew Bergman, per Wisconsin radio station WTMJ.
But the deaths have continued. In early August of 2022, 12-year-old Archie Battersbee died in the UK after apparently trying the challenge and spending months on life support. And a few weeks later, on August 25, Lauryn Keating found her 14-year-old son, Leon Brown, unresponsive in their home in Scotland after an apparent “blackout challenge” attempt, according to The Daily Record, a Scottish news site.
It’s unclear whether Leon’s family will file a lawsuit at this time, but the social media giant already has a few related cases on their hands. Read on for all the details behind the deadly challenge and the other lawsuits that TikTok is facing.
What is the ‘Blackout Challenge’?
Also referred to as the “choking challenge” or the “pass-out challenge,” the “blackout challenge” encourages users to hold their breath until they pass out due to a lack of oxygen.
“What is actually going on in the brain is a lack of oxygen similar to when someone is drowning, choking, or having a cardiac arrest,” Dr. Nick Flynn explained to the Irish Examiner. “If you have low oxygen to the brain for over three minutes you can get brain damage and if you have low oxygen to the brain for over five minutes it can result in death.”
What are signs that someone is trying the ’Blackout Challenge’?
The CDC also released a list of signs that might indicate someone is trying the “blackout challenge,” including:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Marks on their neck
- Severe headaches
- Feeling disoriented after spending time alone
“Because most parents in the study had not heard of the choking game, we hope to raise awareness of the choking game among parents, health care providers, and educators, so they can recognize warning signs of the activity,” said Robin L. Toblin, PhD, MPH, according to the CDC. “This is especially important because children themselves may not appreciate the dangers of this activity.”
A TikTok spokesperson told People that “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,” they added.
TikTok is facing other “blackout”-related lawsuits.
In December, 10-year-old Nylah Anderson choked to death after accidentally hanging herself in her closet, per The Washington Post. When she was found, she was rushed to the hospital. Doctors tried to revive her, but they were too late. A forensic analysis of the young girl’s phone showed that she was using TikTok to watch blackout challenge videos just before she died.
In May 2022, her mother, Tawainna Anderson, sued the popular app for wrongful death in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania, per The Washington Post. Her suit claims that TikTok is “programming children for the sake of corporate profits and promoting addiction,” while being “a predatory and manipulative app” that pushes “exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges.”
In July, lawsuits surrounding the death of Lalani Erika Walton, 8, and Arriani Arroyo, were filed, per Insider. The lawsuits, which claim wrongful death and point to the TikTok challenge, were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Both children were found hanging, having choked to death after attempting the challenges. (The police had examined Lalani’s phone and tablet and found that she had been watching blackout challenge videos.)
Although TikTok has previously denied that the challenge is affiliated with the platform, since it existed as “the choking game” before the app, the Social Media Victims Law Center’s complaint said that TikTok “unquestionably knew” that the challenge was going viral all over their app and that they “should have known that failing to take immediate and significant action to extinguish the spread of the deadly Blackout Challenge would result in more injuries and deaths, especially among children,” per The Los Angeles Times.
TikTok has blocked #BlackoutChallenge from its search engine, per The Washington Post.
Leon Brown, 14, could be the latest ‘Blackout Challenge’ victim.
Leon’s friends told Keating that Leon had seen the challenge on TikTok, and then did it over FaceTime with them, The Daily Record reported.
“Him and his friends probably thought it was a laugh and a joke. But Leon didn’t come back around. It went horribly wrong,” said Keating, per The Daily Mail UK. “I had heard of this challenge, because of what happened to Archie [Battersbee]. But you don’t expect your own child to do it…these online challenges aren’t worth their lives. They aren’t worth ‘likes’ or whatever they’re doing it for.”
A TikTok spokesperson told the outlet that the company’s “deepest sympathies go out to Leon Brown’s family during this incredibly difficult time. The safety of our community is our priority and we take any claim about a dangerous challenge very seriously.” The platform also said it has measures in place to prevent the sharing of these videos and takes users to a safety center if they search the term.
Archie Battersbee also fell victim to the challenge.
In early August, 12-year-old Archie Battersbee died after spending several months on life support at Royal London Hospital in the United Kingdom. Archie’s mother initially found him unconscious back in April of 2022, and his parents think that their son was taking part in the blackout challenge after doctors shared that he was most likely “brain-stem dead,” per BBC.
Although Archie’s family did not sue TikTok, they spent several months battling the European Court of Human Rights to keep Archie on life support.
During their last attempts, Archie’s family reached out to the United Nations to help convince the High Court for an extension. However, the order for his life support to be removed remained, and he passed away, per CNN. The court said that the life-sustaining efforts were “futile” at that point, according to The Daily Beast.
While working through the legal system to keep their son alive, Archie’s parents had also requested that he be moved to a hospice center where he could die peacefully. Justice Theis of the High Court denied the family permission, noting that between Archie’s condition and the high level of risk involved, Archie should remain in the hospital until treatment was withdrawn, per BBC.
“I’m the proudest mom in the world. Such a beautiful little boy, and he fought right until the very end,” Archie’s mother, Hollie Dance, told reporters, per CNN.
“There is absolutely nothing dignified about watching a family member or a child suffocate. No family should ever have to go through what we’ve been through it’s barbaric,” added Ella Carter, a family friend who joined Dance at the press briefing following Archie’s death.
Other deaths have stemmed from the challenge.
Unfortunately, Archie, Nylah, Lalani, and Arriani are not the only children to die while attempting this challenge. Four other children aged 14 and under have also died from trying to mimic the videos—all of which are mentioned in Nylah’s lawsuit, per The Washington Post.
In a warning to other parents, Anderson said, “Make sure you check your kids’ phones,” she told ABC Action News. “You never know what you might find on their phones. You wouldn’t think 10-year-olds would try this. They’re trying because they’re kids, and they don’t know better.”
Addison Aloian (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. When she’s not writing about all things pop culture, health, beauty, and fashion, she loves hitting leg day at the gym, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and watching whichever hockey game is on TV. Her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L’Officiel USA, V Magazine, and Modern Luxury Media.
Sabrina is an editorial assistant for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, training in mixed martial arts, or reading.