The mother of a 10-year-old girl alleged to have died after taking part in a viral social media challenge last December has launched a wrongful death lawsuit against TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance.
Tawainna Anderson’s daughter, Nylah, died in December after taking part in the “Blackout Challenge,” which encourages social media users to try to hold their breath until they pass out, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Thursday.
Anderson had found her daughter passed out on Dec. 7 and rushed her to a hospital, where she spent days in a pediatric intensive care unit before succumbing to her injuries on Dec. 12, the lawsuit said.
Anderson has accused TikTok and its parent company of negligence and having a “defective design,” blaming the platform’s algorithms for exposing a young child to a dangerous challenge. TikTok’s interface automatically suggests video to users as they scroll the app’s main feed, known as its “For You Page.”
“The viral and deadly TikTok Blackout Challenge was thrust in front of Nylah on her TikTok For You Page … as a result of TikTok’s algorithm,” the lawsuit said.
“The TikTok Defendants’ algorithm determined that the deadly Blackout Challenge was well-tailored and likely to be of interest to 10-year-old Nylah Anderson, and she died as a result,” it said.
In a statement, TikTok said the “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,” the company said. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
In recent years, social media has become a growing source of panic for parents concerned about the rise of so-called challenges that can be dangerous for users. In April 2021, a 12-year-old was reported to have died after his family said he tried the blackout challenge on TikTok, according to The Associated Press.
At the time, TikTok expressed “profound sympathies” for the child and his family and said: “At TikTok, we have no higher priority than protecting the safety of our community, and content that promotes or glorifies dangerous behavior is strictly prohibited and promptly removed to prevent it from becoming a trend on our platform.”
In the lawsuit, Nylah was described as an “active, happy, healthy, and incredibly intelligent child” who spoke three languages by the age of 10.
Speaking with TODAY Parents, Elizabeth Wood, a licensed clinical social worker at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, where Nylah was treated, said the child “had a history of viewing these videos on social media.”
Wood, who provided support to Nylah’s family while she was being treated, said the girl’s mother wanted her daughter’s story to be told “so that no other parents, no other mother has to go through what she is going through.”
Kurt Chirbas contributed.