Country tells TikTok to ban users after girl, 10, 'dies during viral challenge'

·3-min read

Italian prosecutors have opened a probe into the accidental death of a 10-year-old girl who allegedly took part in a "blackout challenge" on the video-sharing network TikTok.

The investigation came as Italy announced it had temporarily blocked access to TikTok for users whose age could not be proved definitively.

According to TikTok's terms and conditions users must be at least 13-years-old.

The girl died in a Palermo hospital after being discovered on Wednesday (local time) by her five-year-old sister in the family bathroom with her cellphone, which was seized by police.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, said Friday it had not managed to identify any content on its site that could have encouraged the girl to participate in any such challenge, but was helping the authorities in the probe over possible "incitement to suicide".

Pictured is the TikTok app on a smart phone and someone using the video platform
Italy has ordered TikTok to block users whose age can not be verified. Source: SIPA USA via AAP

"The safety of the TikTok community is our absolute priority, for this motive we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes or glorifies behaviour that could be dangerous," a TikTok spokesman said.

The Italian Data Protection Authority said in a statement later Friday that it would "block the (Chinese) social media network" with immediate effect until February 15, by which date the network will have to meet the regulator's demands.

Medical experts have warned about the danger of the challenge being taken up by some young people, who refer to it as "scarfing" or "the choking game" in which restricted oxygen to the brain results in a high.

The girls' parents told La Repubblica newspaper that another daughter explained that her sister "was playing the blackout game".

"We didn't know anything," the girl's father told the paper.

"We didn't know she was participating in this game. We knew that (our daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?" he said.

Italy's data protection agency filed a lawsuit against TikTok in December, alleging a "lack of attention to the protection of minors" and criticising the ease with which very young children could sign up to the video app.

A TikTok logo is seen on a mobile device in Mountain View, California on November 2, 2019 as a photo illustration.
The 10-year-old girl from Italy was taking part in a viral TikTok challenge and was found by her sister. Source: Sipa USA via AAP

TikTok, which went global in 2018, has built its rapid success on its parodies, messages and short dance or comedy video performances set against popular music - along with an algorithm that determines which content is most likely to interest each user.

The death of the young girl provoked strong reactions in Italy and calls for better regulation of social networks.

"Social networks can't become a jungle where anything is allowed," Licia Ronzulli, president of Italy's parliamentary commission on child protection, said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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