Child deaths blamed on TikTok “blackout challenge”

TikTok is under fire for an online dare dubbed the “blackout challenge” that has been linked to several child deaths. As reported by CBS4 in Denver, the social media stunt encourages young people to hold their breath until they pass out. 

Joshua Haileyesus, a 12-year-old from Aurora, Colorado, was found unconscious in his home on March 22 and was put on life support in the hospital, according to CBS4 in Denver.  He died 19 days later. His family believes the young boy accidentally choked himself with a shoelace while attempting the blackout challenge viewed on TikTok, the video-sharing app known for its dance snippets and other viral videos.

“Brilliant, smart, funny, outgoing, you know, he’s the light for our house,” Haileyesus Zeryihun, Joshua’s father, told correspondent Femi Redwood. “Right now, it’s very quiet. I don’t even hear any loud noise at home anymore, you know, that is the one that really gets me, too.” 

Joshua Haileyesus’s death follows several other other child fatalities linked to the blackout challenge, according to Redwood. Advocates are now urging TikTok to improve its parental monitoring features. 

“TikTok’s just not a safe place for kids,” attorney Dalia Hashad, who is advising ParentsTogether, a group calling for the social media company to change its practices. The nonprofit has started a petition calling for TikTok to create “mirror accounts” for children on the platform that would enable parents to observe what their kids are watching. 

“Which means that kids would be able to log on their device and parents would log onto theirs, and they would be able to see exactly what TikTok is serving their children,” Hashad said. The petition has garnered more than 12,500 signatures so far. 

Current settings on TikTok do include parental controls, but none that let parents see what videos their child is watching, Hashad said. Other apps can help parents monitor their children’s usage of social media. 

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TikTok declined an interview request from CBS News. 

“TikTok has taken industry-first steps to protect teens and promote age-appropriate experiences, including strong default privacy settings for minors,” the company said in a statement. It has also blocked content on its app, including hashtags or phrases connected to the blackout challenge, Redwood reports. 

Said Haileyesus, “I’m sure Joshua, if he knew this was going to kill him, I know he wouldn’t do it.” Haileyesus and his family have launched a foundation in his son’s name called Joshua Keep Shining. A GoFundMe campaign for the family has raised more than $189,000.