Nylah Anderson — inspired by “Blackout Challenge” videos on TikTok — went to her mother’s closet in December with a clothes hanger, a purse and a goal of mimicking others she’d watched on the social media platform, a new lawsuit alleges.
The 10-year-old then hanged herself as her mother was downstairs in their Chester, Pa., home, unaware the girl was in mortal danger. Unable to free herself from strangulation, Nylah allegedly endured “hellacious suffering” until she lost consciousness.
Her mother, Tawainna Anderson, found her hanging in the closet “near the point of death” and performed CPR until paramedics rushed her to a hospital just across the state line in Wilmington, Del.
The girl — described by those who loved her as a precious, fun-loving “butterfly” — died five days later.
On Thursday, Anderson filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against TikTok in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania. In the suit, Anderson accuses TikTok and its parent company ByteDance of unleashing “a predatory and manipulative app” that “pushed exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges” in front of Nylah and other children who died as a result.
A forensic analysis of Nylah’s phone revealed she used the TikTok app to watch a Blackout Challenge video when she choked herself.
“TikTok is programming children for the sake of corporate profits and promoting addiction,” Anderson’s suit alleges. She’s asked for a jury trial and seeks unspecified monetary damages.
A TikTok spokesperson told The Washington Post that 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 spokesperson said in an email, adding that the company has made it impossible to search for videos using the hashtag #BlackoutChallenge.
The TikTok spokesperson also linked to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in which researchers identified at least 82 children who died after playing “the choking game” between 1995 and 2007 — seven years before the app that would morph into TikTok launched in China. In the game, participants choked themselves or others to experience “a brief euphoric state,”.
The researchers’ aims 14 years ago were similar to Anderson’s now: letting parents know that their children might be doing something that could kill them while not realizing the danger.
In her lawsuit, Anderson alleges that TikTok’s “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.” Days before, TikTok had pushed a similar challenge to Nylah’s “For You” page in which people put plastic wrap around their necks and held their breath until the lack of oxygen gave them a feeling of euphoria, the suit alleges.
Other children have died doing the Blackout Challenge after seeing it on TikTok, including a 14-year-old Australian boy in April 2020, a 10-year-old Italian girl in January 2021, a 12-year-old Colorado boy in April of that year and a 12-year-old Oklahoma boy in July 2021, according to the lawsuit.
TikTok designs its app and algorithm to “maximize user engagement and dependence and powerfully encourage children to engage in a repetitive and dopamine-driven feedback loop by watching, sharing, and attempting viral challenges and other videos,” the lawsuit alleges.
In the days after her daughter died, she was struck by a pain that sat in her stomach and at the top of her throat, a pain that wouldn’t go away. To avoid her suffering, Anderson encouraged fellow parents to check their children’s phones and pay attention to what they’re consuming and being influenced by.
“You never know what you might find … or the things [they’re] trying that you think that 10-year-olds wouldn’t try,” she said. “They’re trying because they’re kids and they don’t know no better.”