Dead Child From TikTok Trend, Police Say

  • Police have attributed the death of a child to a TikTok challenge after a preliminary investigation.
  • Other deaths have been linked to the challenge, although users are unable to search for it on TikTok.
  • But similar asphyxiation challenges are preceded by TikTok and modern social media.

Following a preliminary investigation, detectives said they believed the death of a child Tuesday morning in Bethany, Oklahoma, following their participation in a “blackout challenge.” In a press release provided to Insider, the Bethany Police Department (BPD) attributed the fatal challenge to TikTok.

But the “blackout challenge, which encourages people to suffocate until they pass for several seconds, is actually before TikTok. There is evidence that children have died from games involving suffocation as early as 1995, according to one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.

The BPD said in the press release that police and emergency services had responded to a report of a young man not responding to an apartment complex just before midnight on Monday. An officer noticed ligature marks on the boy’s neck. Authorities transported him to Oklahoma Children’s Hospital in OU Health where he died of his injuries Tuesday morning. The boy was 12 years old, according to KOCO, a local ABC affiliate outlet.

Detectives said in the press release that the boy could not have died by suicide, but rather by a TikTok challenge “went wrong.”

It is unclear whether the Oklahoma child had a TikTok account or was actively using the platform. A BDP spokesman told Insider that the department could not provide information about the child, but said investigators were looking for information from family and friends about his TikTok presence.

TikTok’s search guardrails make it difficult to search for content related to the challenge and Insider has been unable to find evidence that the challenge has recently been trending on the app.

The “blackout challenge” did not originate from TikTok

As Insider reported earlier, the dangerous challenge may give a maximum to people, but it was recently linked to the deaths of a 10-year-old boy in Italy in January and a nine-year-old boy in Tennessee in June.

Asphyxiation challenges, sometimes called the “suffocation game,” precede TikTok and even social media. As they spread previously from the mouth, Time Magazine reported in 2018 that online platforms have made information about them more accessible, which may have led more children to try it alone rather than with friends.

A 2008 CDC study identified 82 “probable suffocation game deaths” among youth ages 6 to 19 from 1995 to 2007.

TikTok, which in the public consciousness has become synonymous with youth and Gen Z culture, is just the latest platform to be linked to this fatal challenge.

The challenge doesn’t seem to be popular in TikTok

TikTok told Insider in a statement that the platform blocks “hashtags and related searches to discourage people from participating in or sharing potentially dangerous content.”

The search for the term “blackout challenge” in TikTok gives a “no results found” result and a warning that the phrase may be associated with behavior that violates TikTok community guidelines, which prohibits content that “represents, promotes, normalizes, or glorifies … amateur stunts or dangerous challenges.”

TikTok user interface, text "Blackout challenge" is written in the search bar.  The screen does not show any results and a statement that the phrase may be associated with a behavior or content that violates the tiktok community guidelines.

Searching for “Blackout Challenge” or “Blackout Challenge” makes a “no results found” screen in TikTok.

TikTok via Palmer Haasch / Insider

Searching for terms with typographical errors, Insider found several videos that prevent participation or discuss the challenge, as well as alcohol content.

However, TikTok has struggled in the past to eliminate dangerous challenges from the app.

Insider previously reported that a hashtag for the “nutmeg challenge,” which had people ingesting dangerous amounts of spices, had more than 46 million views at one point. TikTok said at the time that it was actively removing videos related to the challenge and that the hashtag had become unavailable.

Other less dangerous, but still potentially harmful tendencies, such as filling the nostrils in the nose to relieve congestion, remain on the platform.

False challenges that supposedly threaten children, but really stoke paranoia, have also spread online. In 2019, the “Momo” and “Blue Whale” challenges generated panic online for allegedly encouraging children to take their own lives, but as The Atlantic referred to the era, both were ultimately mockers which relies on a cycle of local news and concerned parents who exaggerated the challenges, who did not gain real online popularity.

To read more stories like this, check out Insider’s digital culture coverage here.

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