Though TikTok has something to offer all its users, whether it be challenges, trends, or viral hacks, the recent 'Choking Challenge' is akin to playing with fire.
It doesn't happen regularly, but every so often, a challenge emerges on the social media platform that not only throws caution to the wind but actively endangers a person's life.
TikTok and its users' indisputable proclivity for virality leads them to pull stunts in the name of "challenges" that can prove fatal. There have been deadly repercussions, with reports of young users being hospitalized or even dying as a result of their actions.
The 'Choking Challenge' has already claimed at least five lives since it started going viral on TikTok in 2021.
The dangers of the 'Choking Challenge'
This challenge instructs participants to choke themselves and cut off their air supply until they pass out. In another variation, users hold their breath instead. The purpose of both the actions is to herald a supposed brief euphoric state or "high."
The challenge, also dubbed the "blackout challenge," "choking game," "fainting game," or "passout challenge," did not originate on TikTok. In fact, it has been around offline for much longer.
A February 2008 CDC report stated that there were 82 "youth" deaths related to this challenge across 31 states in the US between the years 1995 and 2008.
A press release about the report read:
"Three or fewer choking game–related deaths per year were reported in the news media from 1995 to 2004. However, 22 deaths occurred in 2005, and 35 in 2006. Nine deaths occurred in the first 10 months of 2007; the explanation for this decrease is unclear. The researchers said the study probably underestimates the number of deaths."
This horrifying trend resurfaced on the popular short-video platform in 2021, magnifying its reach manifold. There have been reports of at least five deaths of children aged between 10 and 13 due to their unchaperoned attempts at the trend.
After a 10-year-old girl in Italy accidentally asphyxiated herself by tying a belt around her neck for the challenge, TikTok's data protection watchdogs banned users under the age of 13 from the app.
The family of another victim, 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus, who succumbed to this deadly TikTok challenge, cautioned other parents. They shared,
"We are also concerned for other families who like ourselves, may not be aware of the existence of the Blackout Challenge and others like it. We urge the community to spend awareness about Joshua and the real risks involved in not having knowledge of what kinds of activities children are involved in."
Harvard pediatrician Clarie McCarthy gave an insight into why adolescents are so inexplicably drawn to such dangerous challenges. It goes beyond peer pressure and the thrill of it.
She cites how children have underdeveloped frontal lobes, the part of the brain that controls judgment, insight, and risk-taking. This leads to rash actions without a second thought of their consequences.
A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement,
“At TikTok, we have no higher priority than protecting the safety of our community, and content that promotes or glorifies dangerous behavior is strictly prohibited and promptly removed to prevent it from becoming a trend on the platform. We also block related hashtags and searches to discourage people from participating in or sharing potentially dangerous content.”
However, given that the 'Choking Challenge' continues to linger even now, the platform's course of action leaves much to be desired.