What is the TikTok blackout challenge?

The death of 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus in Colorado, US, after participating in the TikTok ‘Blackout challenge’ – where users choke themselves until they are unconscious – is a heartbreaking story that highlights the potential dangers of social media. 

Whilst numerous challenges such as the ice bucket challenge, the cranberry juice challenge and planking have – for the most part – proven harmless and have even raised awareness and money for charities, many are also unsafe.

So who should take responsibility for protecting vulnerable or young people in society from following in Joshua’s shoes? At JustSociale, we believe that we all should. 

The Blackout Challenge, or some version of it, has been around for several years. In fact, there have potentially been 82 deaths worldwide of children and teenagers aged between six and 19, linked to online choking games.

What is TikTok doing about it?

TikTok has successfully banned the hashtag blackoutchallenge in an attempt to discourage people from participating in the game. The app works to remove any content that might be seen to glorify dangerous behaviour in an attempt to stop it from “trending”.

What else can we do?

Whilst in NSW the Department of Education does now offer digital citizenship education for students in public schools, society as a whole has a responsibility to know their online rights and responsibilities. We all have online human rights, and that includes sharing content online that is respectful, dignified, and acknowledges the equality of all human beings and everyone’s right to be free from fear.

These online human rights, first declared by the UNHCR in 2012, exist to prevent harm from occurring and to promote peace and justice. It is deeply concerning that there may be people in the world who are unaware of the risks of initiating such activities – because what happened to Joshua was certainly not peaceful or just.

Ask yourself: Do your everyday online interactions encourage each other to consider online human rights? Or do they black them out? If we all did this, individuals like Joshua might still be alive. 

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