A 13-year-old Socorro County boy mimicking “blackout challenge” videos on TikTok fatally hanged himself in his family’s bathroom in 2020, a recent lawsuit alleges.
By the time family members found him, the boy’s heartbeat was so faint that they were unable to revive him.
The boy “died by accidentally hanging himself with a belt while attempting to accomplish the infamous TikTok Blackout Challenge – attempting to choke himself until he passed out,” the lawsuit alleges.
First responders pronounced the boy dead at his family’s home in Polvadera on Aug. 19, 2020.
The suit, filed in the 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, alleges TikTok is marketing “a dangerously defective product to millions of children” and seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit also names as a defendant TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance Inc.
TikTok, based in Culver City, California, is a wildly popular social media app that specializes in short-form video sharing. The company has reported more than 3 billion downloads worldwide since it was launched outside China in 2017.
TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Joleen Youngers, a Santa Fe attorney and court-appointed representative for the deceased boy. The suit did not identify the boy or any members of his family.
Matthew Bergman, an attorney for Social Media Victims Law Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit, said the New Mexico lawsuit is one of six U.S. suits targeting TikTok as a result of the blackout challenge.
TikTok “is particularly popular among children,” said Bergman, who has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three children who died in Texas and Wisconsin related to the blackout challenge.
None of the lawsuits against TikTok have yet been heard by a judge or a jury, he said. “It’s new litigation, the only certainty of which is it’s going to be hard fought.”
According to the suit, the boy’s phone was found in the bathroom, and the alarm or timer began sounding while the family was attempting to revive the boy, the suit said.
“Based on this timer, as well as (the boy’s) documented history of attempting TikTok challenges, there is no question that (his) death was the result of him attempting a TikTok Blackout Challenge,” the suit alleges.
“Despite knowing their product encouraged dangerous behaviors, the TikTok defendants failed to provide any warnings or safeguards that could have prevented (the boy’s) death,” it alleges.
The suit alleges that TikTok users “are confronted with an endless stream of curated videos” selected by TikTok’s proprietary algorithm that promotes TikTok challenges. The challenges encourage users to record themselves engaging in behaviors that can be dangerous, the suit alleges.
Bergman said the blackout challenge encourages users to choke themselves to the point of unconsciousness to achieve a sense of euphoria and record a video to share.
“There have been a significant number of deaths from the TikTok blackout challenge, not only in the United States but throughout the world,” he said.