The attorney for the family of Lalani Walton, the 8-year-old from Temple who died after doing a TikTok trend, is speaking out.
Attorney Matthew Bergman filed a wrongful death lawsuit on the family's behalf. Bergman said the social media giant's algorithm is responsible for exposing children to fatal trends.
"One of the many dangerous challenges that TikTok hosts on its app, called the blackout challenge, where children are encouraged to hang themselves until they are asphyxiating themselves ... they become unconscious and in many cases, sadly, they never regained consciousness," Bergman said.
Walton was scrolling on TikTok when she discovered a challenge that cost her life, according to Bergman, on July 15, 2021, Walton returned from a road trip with her stepmother when the incident happened. Walton was told to clean her room. When her stepmother woke up from a nap, she found Walton hanging by a rope from her bed. Bergman said an autopsy revealed the 8-year-old died from 'self-asphyxiation' because of the 'blackout challenge'.
Bergman said, "The social media platforms like TikTok make their money based on user engagement, the more time that people spend online, the more engaged they are, the more money they make. So, they've designed these very sophisticated algorithms, using operant conditioning and other artificial intelligence to adapt children to their products."
In 2021 Bergman founded the Social Media Victims Law Center which aims to educate parents on the dangers of social media and represent those families who have lost loved ones due to social media-related deaths. He is also representing the family of 9-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who also died from attempting to do the blackout challenge.
"It's just astounding that in two diverse geographical locations, two children happen upon the same recommendation, the same challenge, and to me, indicates how defective and dangerous the TikTok product is, and why parents need to stand up and say enough is enough," Bergeman said.
Dr. Amy Mersiovsky, a Board-Certified Pediatric Nurse, and professor at A&M Central Texas said this unfortunate string of deaths is not uncommon.
"Kids don't always realize the risks, and activities and their prefrontal cortex is many times not completely developed enough to realize the risk of these kinds of challenges or risky behaviors until they're in their 20s to mid-20s," said Mersiovsky. "There's been the hanging challenge. There's been the bb-shooting challenge. There's been all kinds of these challenges that are going around, and they're getting more and more common, and they seem to be getting more and more risky."
Dr. Mersiovsky said parents and guardians must be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the social media usage of children.
"It's really, really important for all of us adults to step up, and to really be watching out for our kids and try to be talking to them about the dangers of all of these different risks that they might be coming into whether it's social media or just peer pressure at school, or in their friend group," said Mersiovsky.
If you search for the challenge on TikTok you won't have much luck. However, removing the content is not enough according to Bergman.
"We’re in for a long fight we’re in for a hard fight and we’re in for an uncertain fight but the only thing that is certain is that we’re not going to give up. We’re not going to stop because we believe that this is the only way we can stop our kids from suffering these kinds of fates," said Bergman.
25 News has reached out to TikTok for comment regarding this lawsuit. We have yet to hear back.