TikTok Challenges are Dangerous, Putting Youth at Risk

Since its founding in 2016, TikTok has become one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. It’s not only huge in the west. Initially launched by Bytedance in China, it is available in over 150 countries and has more than 1 billion users. However, Tiktok challenges are becoming an issue.

A teenager seeing tiktok challenges on tiktok app

Billed as a platform for short-form content, it’s become a highly competitive attention marketplace. That’s led to some noteworthy content, such as super-creator Zach King’s Harry Potter illusion. It’s also led to dangerous trends: the now-infamous TikTok challenges.

What are TikTok Challenges?

Like most social media sites, TikTok content creates and follows trends—and so do TikTok users. TikTok challenges are trends that take an idea shown in a video on the app into real life. Some of these are harmless, like the challenge of making yourself look like a celebrity. Others, however, can pose a real danger.

For example, in June 2022, the “Angel of Death” challenge became a TikTok trend in Indonesia. In the challenge, teenagers jump in front of moving trucks, with the hopes that the driver would stop or swerve before hitting them. Following the challenge and trying to make their own videos, two people died and fourteen others were arrested in a single day.

Why do teens participate?

The simple reason is attention. TikTok trends build on tags and algorithms that popularize certain content. Participating in a harmless TikTok challenge (such as the celebrity lookalike challenge) creates a content type that the app has already recognized as popular. That means it’s more likely to get into other users’ feeds, and it’s more likely to get noticed.

Dangerous TikTok challenges create more eye-popping content, which leads to greater engagement. A recent study showed that users are more receptive to influence on TikTok than they are to other social media apps. They also want to engage, and creating content that garners attention is the best way to do that.

Peer pressure also plays a role, both inside the app and among real-life friend groups engaged with the app. The parents of a twelve-year-old boy who died from the TikTok challenges called “blackout challenge” blamed peer pressure for his death. (In the blackout challenge, teens choke themselves until they lose consciousness—a trend that has led to numerous deaths.)

What can parents do?

As with any social media consumption, moderation and communication are great tools for minimizing the risk that their teens will participate in a dangerous challenge.

Moderating social media use is challenging for everybody. However, parents can help their kids by establishing prerequisites (only after the chores are done) or setting hours when it’s okay to use the app and hours when it is not.

Communication is also key. Talking with kids about their social media experience, what they’re learning, and how they see the world is the best way to gain insight into how TikTok is affecting them. It also makes it more likely they’ll talk to a parent before attempting a dangerous challenge.

What if my teen has been hurt in TikTok challenges?

If your teen has been hurt due to participating in a TikTok challenge, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Several families are currently suing Tiktok for the app’s role in deaths related to the blackout challenge. At the center of the suit is the plaintiffs’ claim that TikTok’s algorithm played a role in introducing their kids to the challenge.

TikTok may be held responsible for the role it plays in deciding which user sees content, and when. If you feel TikTok was responsible for an injury sustained by your child, contact Napoli Shkolnik for a free consultation to assess the merits of your case.