While TikTok is normally a hub for fun trends and challenges that people can participate in globally, the “blackout challenge” is one that has done far more harm than good.
This damaging trend has left Joshua Haileyesus, a 12-year-old boy from Colorado, “brain-dead” after he tied a shoelace around his neck when attempting the challenge on March 22 and lost consciousness. Joshua is in critical condition in hospital and the family has created a GoFundMe to pay for his medical bills.
This isn’t the first time the trend has had serious consequences. In January, a 9-year-old boy’s death in Trinidad was linked to the TikTok challenge. In February, it was linked to the death of a 10-year-old girl in Italy, which prompted the Italian government to block national access to the app unless users were able to prove their age.
When the incident in February occurred, TikTok said it was helping authorities in the probe over possible “incitement to suicide.” However, they also said they were unable to identify any content that would have encouraged the girl to participate in a challenge of this kind.
What is the blackout challenge?
This type of challenge has existed online for years, and frequently changes face on TikTok. It has previously been known as the “Passout Challenge”, “The Game of Choking”, “Speed Dreaming” or “The Fainting Game.” This version of the trend, “the blackout challenge,” is no different. In this format, it encourages TikTok users to film strangling or choke themselves with household objects until they “blackout.”
As an app that is attractive to very young and impressionable kids looking for entertainment while bored in a global health crisis, it is particularly dangerous. While TikTok has an age limit of 13-years-old, it hasn’t stopped children from getting involved.
TikTok has since made efforts to curb the damages. When searching for “blackout challenge” on the app in the UK, users are now met with no results and a short paragraph that says “This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines. Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok’s top priority.”
Meanwhile, the page which displays the original hashtag says “Performance, imitation, or encouragement of dangerous amateur stunts and risky behavior can lead to serious injury or death, is not permitted on TikTok.”