Dangerous 'Blackout Challenge' Linked To 2 NJ Middle Schoolers Passing Out

tiktok blackout challenge young multi ethnic friends on white circles
What Is TikTok’s Dangerous ‘Blackout Challenge’?Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images
  • The "blackout challenge" was one of the most dangerous trends to hit TikTok back in 2021.

  • While it's not a new concept, the challenge's resurgence is being linked to deaths in young users.

  • TikTok is now facing several lawsuits. Here's what to know so far:

The "blackout challenge" is back in the news. School administrators are blaming the dangerous TikTok trend for two students passing out in South Orange, New Jersey.

After attempting the challenge, both students passed out, according to ABC 7. One had to be transported to the hospital, after they experienced difficulty breathing once they regained consciousness. The other student was given aid by school nursing staff.

On April 16, South Orange Middle School principal Lynn Irby Hill sent out a letter to parents about the "blackout challenge" once again resurfacing online.

"These incidents are very scary and very avoidable. We will continue to warn our students about the dangers of the 'blackout challenge' and most, if not all, challenges promoted on social media," she wrote, per Fox 5.

The "blackout challenge" has been around since at least 2008, according to People, but it started making the rounds on TikTok again back in 2021. Experts have warned young users not to try the trend, which was linked to more than 80 deaths back when it first emerged, per the CDC. In November 2022, a Bloomberg Businessweek report linked the challenge to at least 15 deaths in children 12 and under in the previous 18 months, plus an additional five deaths in children aged 13 and 14.

Tawainna Anderson sued TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance in 2022 after her 10-year-old daughter Nylah attempted the "blackout challenge" the year prior, using a purse strap hung in her mother's closet. She lost consciousness, suffered severe injuries, and died five days later.

Tawainna's case was dismissed, but in January, she urged an appeals court to revive the case, per Reuters. Another case against TikTok and Bytedance was filed in 2022 on behalf of the families of 9-year-old Arriani Arroyo and 8-year-old Lalani Walton, per The Sacramento Bee, but it's unclear what the current status of it is.

Read on for all the details behind the deadly challenge and the other lawsuits that TikTok is facing.

What is the ‘Blackout Challenge’?

Also referred to as the “choking challenge” or the “pass-out challenge,” the “blackout challenge” encourages users to hold their breath until they pass out due to a lack of oxygen.

“What is actually going on in the brain is a lack of oxygen similar to when someone is drowning, choking, or having a cardiac arrest,” Dr. Nick Flynn explained to the Irish Examiner. “If you have low oxygen to the brain for over three minutes you can get brain damage and if you have low oxygen to the brain for over five minutes it can result in death.”

What are signs that someone is trying the ’Blackout Challenge’?

The CDC also released a list of signs that might indicate someone is trying the "blackout challenge," including:

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • Marks on their neck

  • Severe headaches

  • Feeling disoriented after spending time alone

"Because most parents in the study had not heard of the choking game, we hope to raise awareness of the choking game among parents, health care providers, and educators, so they can recognize warning signs of the activity," said Robin L. Toblin, PhD, MPH, according to the CDC. "This is especially important because children themselves may not appreciate the dangers of this activity."

A TikTok spokesperson told People that "this 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," they added.

In 2024, two NJ students passed out after attempting the challenge.

After years of relative quiet, the "blackout challenge" made headlines again in April 2024 when two students in South Orange, New Jersey, passed out after attempting the game.

One was taken to the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing once they regained consciousness, while the other was given medical attention by school staff.

In a letter to parents, South Orange Middle School principal Lynn Irby Hill requested that parents discuss the dangers of this challenge with their children. "These incidents are very scary and very avoidable," she added.

The "blackout challenge" is responsible for a string of deaths.

Since the challenge—which used to be called the choking game—has been around for many years, it's had a high death count. The CDC attributes 82 deaths to the trend from 1995 to 2008, and it's been responsible for at least 20 deaths in recent months, per Fox 5.

The game is thought to be responsible for a number of deaths, including Tristan Casson, 12, of Ohio, Milagros Soto, 12, of Argentina, Leon Brown, 14, of the UK, and Archie Battersbee, 12, of the UK.

“TikTok needs to control what it shows on its platform,” Tristan's mother told Michigan Live. “I have parental controls on everything, but these videos can pop out and be seen by children like my son no matter what.”

There have been a number of lawsuits concerning the "blackout challenge."

In December 2021, 10-year-old Nylah Anderson choked to death after accidentally hanging herself in her closet, per The Washington Post. When she was found, she was rushed to the hospital. Doctors tried to revive her, but they were too late. A forensic analysis of the young girl's phone showed that she was using TikTok to watch blackout challenge videos just before she died.

In May 2022, her mother, Tawainna Anderson, tried to sue the popular app and its parent company, ByteDance, for wrongful death in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania, per The Washington Post. Her suit claimed that TikTok is "programming children for the sake of corporate profits and promoting addiction,” while being “a predatory and manipulative app” that pushes "exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges." However, in October of that same year, a federal judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from being held liable for content shared by third-party users, per NBC News.

“Defendants did not create the Challenge; rather, they made it readily available on their site,” the judge wrote, per NBC News. “Defendants’ algorithm was a way to bring the Challenge to the attention of those likely to be most interested in it. In thus promoting the work of others, Defendants published that work — exactly the activity Section 230 shields from liability.”

Although Tawainna's case was dismissed in 2022, in January, she urged an appeals court to revive the case, per Reuters. In a warning to other parents, she told ABC Action News, "Make sure you check your kids' phones. You never know what you might find on their phones. You wouldn't think 10-year-olds would try this. They're trying because they're kids, and they don't know better."

In July 2022, a lawsuit surrounding the deaths of Lalani Erika Walton, 8, and Arriani Arroyo, 9, were filed, per Insider. The lawsuit, which claim wrongful death and point to the TikTok challenge, were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It is unclear what the current status of the suit is.

Both children were found hanging, having choked to death after attempting the challenges. (The police had examined Lalani's phone and tablet and found that she had been watching blackout challenge videos.)

Although TikTok has previously denied that the challenge is affiliated with the platform, since it existed as "the choking game" before the app, the Social Media Victims Law Center’s complaint said that TikTok "unquestionably knew" that the challenge was going viral all over their app and that they "should have known that failing to take immediate and significant action to extinguish the spread of the deadly Blackout Challenge would result in more injuries and deaths, especially among children," per The Los Angeles Times.

TikTok has blocked #BlackoutChallenge from its search engine, per The Washington Post.

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