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Wrongful death suit filed for 8-year-old Temple girl who allegedly died in TikTok challenge

Posted at 3:23 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 22:00:59-04

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in the death of an 8-year-old from Temple who died while participating in TikTok’s “Blackout Challenge."

The challenge encourages self-strangulation using belts, purse strings, or other similar items until a person passes out, according to the Social Media Victims Law Center. The organization filed two lawsuits in the deaths of 8-year-old Lalani Erika Walton from Temple and 9-year-old Arriani Jaileen Arroyo of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The suit alleges that TikTok’s algorithm intentionally and repeatedly pushed the challenge into the two girls' "For You Page."

"Lalani received her first cellphone on her eighth birthday and shortly thereafter downloaded TikTok and started posting videos of herself singing and dancing," said SMVLC. "Unbeknownst to either her mother, Christina Arlington Smith, or stepmother, Rashika Watson, TikTok’s algorithm was directing Lalani to its deadly “Blackout Challenge.”

The 8-year-old from Temple had just returned from a road trip in the afternoon of July 15, of 2021 with her stepmother "during which she had been amusing herself by watching TikTok videos on her device."

Her stepmother asked her to clean up her room while she rested from the drive, and later awoke from a nap to find that Lalani had died from self-asphyxiation as a direct result of the TikTok challenge, according to the suit.

Similarly, 9-year-old Arriani of Wisconsin began using TikTok and posting videos of herself dancing and singing, according to SMVLC.

"She gradually became obsessed with participating in TikTok challenges," said the organization. "Because many of these Tik Tok challenges involved eating and dancing, Ariana’s parents did not regard them as dangerous."

On Feb. 26, 2021, Arriani's mother was at church while her father worked in the downstairs basement. Arriani's younger brother alerted her father that she was not moving, and she was found to have died from self-asphyxiation.

"She had been in this condition for at least a half-hour in front of her 5-year-old brother," said SMVLC. "Mr. Arroyo called 911, and emergency services rushed Arriani to Children’s Hospital, where doctors placed her on life support."

Arriani's family made the decision to withdraw life support after testing revealed she had complete loss of brain function, according to the suit.

“TikTok needs to be held accountable for pushing deadly content to these two young girls,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “TikTok has invested billions of dollars to intentionally design products that push dangerous content that it knows are dangerous and can result in the deaths of its users.”