'Dangerous': Warning to parents after boy's tragic TikTok death

Ash Cant
·4-min read

A young boy who was hospitalised and on life support after taking part in a TikTok challenge, has died.

On March 22, Joshua Haileyesus, 12, took part in a the viral 'Blackout Challenge' on TikTok, without being aware of the risks involved.

He was hospitalised and doctors told his family there was little chance he would survive. On Saturday,19 days after he was hospitalised, he died.

Pictured is 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesu who died after taking part in a TikTok challenge
Joshua Haileyesu has died, after being hospitalised following a TikTok challenge. Source: GoFundMe

"We would like to update everyone that this evening, after fighting the good fight on life support for 19 days, Joshua has gone off to be with the Lord," the GoFundMe says. 

"To everyone who has prayed relentlessly and shared our burden during this trying time, we thank you. Your prayers and your love have comforted us and we are grateful for your support."

Joshua’s twin brother found him passed out in the bathroom of the family’s home in the suburb of Aurora on March 22. KCNC-TV reported that doctors told relatives the boy was brain dead.

Joshua's family had no idea he was taking part in the TikTok challenge, the GoFundMe says.

The Haileyesus family hopes their story will inspire others to talk about any games or challenges that could cause serious injury.

Joshua Haileyesus, pictured in front of a lake, was on life support after he took part in a TikTok challenge
The gifted 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus is being remembered as intelligent, funny and caring. Source: CBS Denver

“I don’t know why people would do such things,” Joshua's father Haileyesus Zerihun told KCNC. 

“This is not a joke. This is not a thing to play with.”

His family is remembering Joshua as "incredibly intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted" and explained he planned on joining the army before becoming a first responder.

Before the family confirmed Joshua had died, TikTok released a statement extending sympathies to Joshua and his family.

What parents can do to protect children from viral challenges

Australia's eSafety Commission said they were aware of dangerous challenges doing the rounds on social media.

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said dangerous challenges can come in many forms.

Often these challenges can result in serious injury for the participants, or sometimes, tragically, death.

“This is not the first dangerous online challenge and unfortunately it won’t be the last, so parents and educators need to be aware that they can play a role in minimising the potential impacts," Comm Inman said.

“It’s a difficult issue to deal with, because warning kids about a new risky online challenge can actually tempt them to try it out, especially once they learn it’s popular online.

“We encourage parents to approach the issue carefully when talking to their kids and reinforce the importance of thinking critically about things they see on their favourite platforms and the things they can do to stay safe online.”

Australia's eSafety Commission want all social media platforms to do more to prevent dangerous challenges from going viral. Source: Getty Images
Australia's eSafety Commission want all social media platforms to do more to prevent dangerous challenges from going viral. Source: Getty Images

eSafety Commission advice to help parents, educators protect children

  • Keep a close eye on particularly vulnerable children, to ensure they are not targeted.

  • Do not introduce the idea, or the name of a specific challenge or risk-taking behaviour if young people are not already aware of it.

  • If young people are aware of a dangerous challenge, talk about how bad the injuries could be and ask how they would feel if they were pranked and it was shared online.

  • Remind them respect and empathy for others is far more important than getting laughs, likes or followers.

  • Do not show them any videos of a dangerous challenge, even to warn them about how risky it is.

  • Advise them not to view or share videos of the challenge themselves.

  • Encourage them to report any videos of the challenge to the apps or services where they were posted – the eSafety Guide has a list of links they can use.

Comm Inman said social media companies need to do more to prevent harmful challenges from going viral.

Searches on TikTok for #blackoutchallenge returned no results. A note said the phrase may be associated with behaviour or content that violates the site’s guidelines.

“At TikTok, we have no higher priority than protecting the safety of our community, and content that promotes or glorifies dangerous behaviour is strictly prohibited and promptly removed to prevent it from becoming a trend on our platform,” the company said in a statement last month.

TikTok says challenges which glorify dangerous or harmful actions are removed from the platform. Source: Getty Images
TikTok says challenges which glorify dangerous or harmful actions are removed from the platform. Source: Getty Images

Comm Inman acknowledged TikTok has advised the eSafety Commission in the past of dangerous challenges that violate Community Guidelines and reported videos are removed.

"This is why we so strongly advocate that industry take a concerted “safety by design” approach which encourages platforms to build safety protections at the front end to prevent online harms rather than responding after the damage has been done," Comm Inman said.

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