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What is deadly ‘blackout challenge’, viral TikTok trend linked with 20 child deaths in 18 months

DNA logo DNA 02-12-2022 (DNA Web Desk)
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The viral ‘blackout challenge’ on leading social media platform TikTok is connected to at least 20 deaths of children aged 14 years or younger in the last 18 months. The blackout challenge lures people into choking themselves until they pass out and they record videos as they regain consciousness with an adrenaline rush. 

While versions of the challenge have, in fact, been there for over two decades as per US government data, social media has amplified its menace. In the past year and half, there have been at least 15 deaths among children 12 years or less due to the blackout challenge. In kids aged 13-14 years, there have been another 5 deaths in the same time, Bloomberg reported citing data collected by BusinessWeek. 

The challenge is not new with the ‘choking dare’ in the news for deaths since the 1990s. As per a US government study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back in 2008, the dare had been behind 82 deaths in kids between 6 and 19 years of age in a 12-year-period from 1995 to 2007.

In July this year, it was reported that TikTok was facing multiple lawsuits linked to the deaths of at least 7 children due to the blackout challenge.

What is the deadly ‘blackout challenge’ and how is it linked with TikTok?

The blackout challenge became a popular trend globally with videos surfacing where people use household items like belts to choke themselves into blacking out. When they come back to consciousness, the act is filmed and posted on social media platforms. The videos have had its effect on kids who made the fatal dare a part of their play routine. Much to the relief of TikTok management, probe was unable to determine if the app’s algorithms indeed were responsible for pushing the videos to smartphones of minor users.

While the platform does not make any disclosure regarding the age of its users, New York Times once reported that one-third of TikTok users were under 14 years of age in 2020, as per data that was leaked to the US media house. However, children misreporting their age to make an account on social media is a common problem and not just linked to TikTok. Keeping children and young teenagers away from the platform is an ongoing issue.

TikTok is reported to have discussed using facial software that estimates a user’s age on its platform. However, fears that the move may bring accusations that the app is allegedly collecting data on children for home country China made TikTok top brass shelf the plan. TikTok reportedly employs a global team of 40,000 people to moderate the content on the platform with each of the moderators reviewing up to 1,000 videos per day. 

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