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Lawsuit reveals the dark side of TikTok

Updated Nov 14th, 2022 2:13PM EST
TikTok app
Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Until her 9-year-old daughter died attempting the TikTok blackout challenge, Christal Arroyo Roman never realized there was anything that amounted to a “dark side” on the wildly popular video-sharing service that’s now threatening Facebook’s supremacy. “This is not easy, to wake up every day and know that your little girl is never coming back,” the girl’s mother told Good Morning America. “We just never thought that there was a darker side to what TikTok allows on its platform.”

That aspect of TikTok, unfortunately, is detailed in lawsuits from not only this Wisconsin family, but also others around the country. They similarly lost young children who were attempting the TikTok blackout challenge. At issue is what the families say is the regularity with which dangerous content not only goes viral on the platform. But it’s TikTok’s algorithm, they say, that allegedly puts that content in front of impressionable young children.

TikTok blackout challenge lawsuit

The blackout challenge, according to one complaint, “encourages users to choke themselves with belts, purse strings, or anything similar until passing out.”

We say TikTok’s algorithm “allegedly” put that content in front of some young users because TikTok has insisted that it blocked that blackout challenge, specifically, as a search result on the platform. A safety message/warning screen appears, instead. Importantly, though, at least some of the lawsuits against TikTok over this issue say the children who died never search for the videos proactively. Rather, TikTok’s algorithm surfaced the content on its own, via the app’s For You page.

The blackout challenge is also at the center of multiple lawsuits pending against TikTok at the moment. The suits were brought by families of young children who died, all of whom were under the age of 15. One of the suits points to seven children who died last year attempting the viral challenge.

“This is not easy, to wake up every day and know that your little girl is never coming back,” the Wisconsin girl’s mother told GMA. “You’re never gonna hear her voice, you’re never gonna see her smile or hear her say ‘I love you.'”

READ MORE: Newest TikTok features help stop you from using TikTok

Latest TikTok news

Aside from the latest TikTok headlines — like word of the blackout challenge lawsuits — plus new viral trends on the app including the latest one about the pink sauce product, multiple negative stories have mounted against the company lately.

For example, it’s emerged that the company’s staunch insistence about its US users’ data being completely walled off from the Chinese-owned parent company was … not exactly true. That issue, remember, was at the heart of a half-hearted 2020 crackdown against the company from the Trump administration.

An FCC commissioner, meanwhile, has taken the TikTok revelations in a damning BuzzFeed News report one step further. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in so many words said President Trump was right to go after the company back in 2020. Furthermore, he’s penned a letter to the CEOs of Apple and Google about the app. It demands that both companies boot TikTok from their app stores.

The app’s “surreptitious data practices” are particularly nettlesome, as he sees it. A Carr tweet thread called out TikTok as being much more than a storehouse of silly videos. He said the app “collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata.”

Plus, the app hoovers up “the text, images, and videos” from a device’s clipboard. In other words, Big Brother is watching you … dancing with Horace on TikTok.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.