A Christian organization commented on the potential harms of young children using social media without proper supervision amid reports that two sets of parents are suing TikTok over the belief the company could have done more to prevent their daughters’ deaths via an online challenge.
The Social Media Victims Law Center filed a civil lawsuit against TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., in a Los Angeles County court on behalf of the families of Lalani Erika Walton and Arriani Jaileen Arroyo, two children who died while attempting the viral TikTok challenge known as the "blackout challenge."
Participants in the challenge share videos depicting self-strangulation until they lose consciousness. Walton and Arriani, ages eight and nine, respectively, died after participating in the challenge.
The parents claim that their children became addicted to TikTok and that the platform promoted content that influenced the kids to harm themselves.
Paul Asay, senior associate editor of the Christian organization Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn.com, which helps parents navigate popular entertainment, weighed in on the controversy, stressing that social media comes with a “built-in irony.”
Asay told The Christian Post that these applications are intended to strengthen friendships but are also a “business.” He said the purpose of the business is to “keep their users as involved and engaged as much as they possibly can.”
He stated that this can be a problem for kids and teens using social media applications. The associate editor argued that children typically don’t have the ability to make “wise, healthy decisions for themselves.”
“Social media is designed to be addictive, in a way — designed to keep its users engaged with it as long as possible,” Asay wrote. “And, as this tragic story illustrates, content found on such sites can be damaging, dangerous and deadly — especially for children.”
The lawsuit notes that the application’s algorithm serves as “a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user" and "each person’s feed is unique and tailored to that specific individual.”
According to the complaint, TikTok determined that videos showing the blackout challenge were appropriate for young users and fed their children a stream of challenge videos persuading them to participate.
Both girls’ parents also allege that the company does not provide adequate warnings to deter young users or inform parents about the application’s addictive qualities or the presence of dangerous challenges.
The lawsuit seeks damages from TikTok for its product design, which allegedly directs kids to videos like the ones their daughters watched.
TikTok did not immediately respond to CP's request for comment.
In a statement, the SMVLC claimed that: “The suit alleges that TikTok's defective design of its social media product results in an addictive product that is not safe for users and fails to warn minors and their parents that TikTok is addictive and pushes harmful content onto their 'For You' page that could endanger their wellbeing."
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the company told The New York Times that “the company would not comment on continuing litigation." TikTok also pointed to a previous statement to People magazine regarding a 10-year-old girl who also died after attempting the blackout challenge.
The social media application argued that the online challenge predated its platform and had never become "a TikTok trend." TikTok expressed its "deepest sympathies" to the family of that case and vowed to "remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety" and "immediately remove related content if found."
Asay noted that while TikTok is designed for children 13 and older, as seen in the case involving the two girls, children much younger than that also use the platform. He argued that parents must engage their children on this topic and monitor their online activities.
“And when your kids do begin to engage with social media, make sure that you engage with them: Set sensible parameters on how much time they spend on social media (and who they spend it with),” he wrote.
“Talk with them about its dangers. And above all, keep the lines of communication open. Social media is indeed a huge, and powerful, influencer — but moms and dads are even more influential.”