Two little girls. Just eight and nine years old. Not even in the double digits yet.
Yet their lives were taken away from them due to a senseless viral challenge on TikTok that continues to wreak havoc online, its devastating consequences impacting families who are left to grieve their children.
Wanted to be famous
Arriani (Arri) Arroyo was just 9 years old when she passed away in February 2021 in her home in Arizona. She loved Roblox, doing her hair and nails and dreamt of going to Paris for art school.
Lalani Erika Renee was just 8 years old when she took her last breath four months later, in Tenessee. She collected LOL dolls, her favourite colour was pink and she wanted to be a famous rapper when she grew up.
Both of these girls wanted to be TikTok famous. Both of them were shown, through their TikTok feeds, a dangerous challenge known as the Blackout Challenge. Both of them tried it. Neither survived.
This particular viral challenge encourages people to see how long they can hold their breath. Also known as the Passout Challenge, Speed Dreaming, Fainting Game or the Game of Choking, the game basically encourages young children to lose consciousness. I’ve never seen this challenge myself while perusing through TikTok but it is out there and it is still going on today.
Lalani and Arri are not the first two children to die from it. There have been dozens of children who have lost their lives due to this challenge. Many others have been severely injured, including Archie Battersbee, who is currently fighting for his life on a ventilator after being deemed brain dead by doctors.
‘She accidentally took her own life’
The story of how Lalani and Arriani died is even more heartbreaking. It is alleged that, after being shown the Blackout Challenge through her feed, Lalani watched videos for hours and hours. Lalani was found by her stepmum, in her room. We won’t discuss the details of how she did it.
Lalani was “under the belief that if she posted a video of herself doing the Blackout Challenge, then she would become famous”.
As Lalani’s mum writes on her GoFundMe account,
Because of social media and TikTok my child was just trying to be famous and she accidentally took her own life. She is one of 86 kids that’s has tragically lost their lives to this Pass Out challenge. Please help me stop this app.”
Bring awareness to the dangers ( viral challenge )
Arri was the same, except in a different state, a different area of the house, but the same Blackout Challenge and hopes for ‘fame’ fuelling her decision. Again, we won’t disclose the details.
Arri’s family writes on Arri’s GoFundMe page,
We would like to bring awareness to the dangers that exist on internet, which we believe is the reason Arri is no longer with us.
There are people who use the internet to spread dangerous challenges and trends that anyone at any age can access. Children are innocent and as the world evolves, technology has become a regular part of daily life for all of us. This will not change and future generations of kids will continue to be born into newer and more advanced technology. These apps start with harmless trends but there is an undercurrent of malice being spread into these apps. As parents we do everything that we can to protect our children and shelter them from harm, but we must work together as a community and world to ensure that our future generations are safe and secure.
Even with close monitoring, there are still ways for children to be exposed to danger. Monitor what they are viewing, ask questions, and report anything that is dangerous.”
Lawsuit filed by families
While these girls didn’t know each other, their heartbroken parents have come together to ensure this type of content isn’t shown on TikTok by suing TikTok.
They are currently in the middle of a lawsuit against TikTok, arguing that TikTok is a “defective product”.
As we know, TikTik offers algorithmically curated video content. The parents are suing TikTok over their algorithm being faulty and showcasing this Blackout challenge to their daughters.
TikTok’s product and its algorithm directed exceedingly and unacceptably dangerous challenges and videos [encouraging the girls to engage and participate in the TikTok Blackout Challenge.
TikTok unquestionably knew that the deadly Blackout Challenge was spreading through their app and that their algorithm was specifically feeding the Blackout Challenge to children,” the Social Media Victims Law Center’s complaint said.
The lawsuit also read,
TikTok knew or 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.
“TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design and develop its product to encourage, enable, and push content to teens and children that defendant knows to be problematic and highly detrimental to its minor users’ mental health,” the lawsuit says.
TikTok has previously denied any responsibility for the issue, explaining that the “choking game” had injured young people long before the ‘blackout challenge’. This lawsuit is still ongoing.
What parents need to know
While these little girls lost their lives in 2021, this awful trend is still out there. Just look at Archie, who took part in the challenge in April 2022 and continues to remain on life support now.
There are a few other dangerous TikTok trends out there. Our first port of call, as parents, is to be aware of these challenges and to talk to our kids about them. Have the conversation. Then have it again. And again. And again. Not to scare, but to make them aware.
One such trend is the Blue Whale Challenge, which encourages teens to complete 50 challenges in 50 days, the last being suicide. It allegedly started in Russia in 2016 and has allegedly been linked to hundreds of deaths.
Be aware of:
- Any messages that relate to a person called Jonathan Galindo.
- Any messages from a person with his face painted as either Mickey Mouse or a dog.
- Messages that make reference to #f57, #f40 or #IMaWhale”.
- Any change in sleeping or eating habits.
- Wearing long-sleeved clothing to disguise self-harm.
- Taking and uploading photographs of activities and sending them to accounts that you don’t recognise.
Next. check-in with them. Yes, you can ban TikTik entirely but this may backfire. It’s best to be open and ensure they are communicating what they are seeing and doing online. No hiding. If you can’t trust them, check. Check their history. Monitor their accounts. Ensure they aren’t posting anything personal.
I will be the first to admit my daughter loves the idea of being ‘TikTok famous’ too. She is constantly trying different dances and trends. The tragic loss of Lalani and Arri is a firm reminder that our children are impressionable and that what they see on TikTok does impact their thoughts. Parents may realise that what we see on social media isn’t reality, but kids may not.
We need to be constantly reminding them that TikTok is not real life and, that as tempting as it is to become TikTok famous, this is not the way to do it.
Finally, set limits. If their social media habits are getting out of control, set limits or take the devices away. Yes, you’ll be hated for a little bit. But they will forgive you, possibly even thank you, one day.