Police said a child died from a ‘blackout challenge’ found on TikTok, but the dangerous ‘game’ has circulated for years

TikTok
  • Police attributed a child’s death to a TikTok challenge after a preliminary investigation.
  • Other deaths have been linked to the challenge, though users are unable to search for it on TikTok.
  • But similar asphyxiation challenges predate TikTok and modern social media altogether.

Following a preliminary investigation, detectives said they believed the death of a child Tuesday morning in Bethany, Oklahoma, followed his participation in a “blackout challenge.” In a press release provided to Insider, the Bethany Police Department (BPD) attributed the deadly challenge to TikTok.

But the “blackout challenge, which encourages people to choke themselves until they pass out for several seconds, actually predates TikTok. There’s evidence that children died from games involving choking as early as 1995, according to one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.

The BPD said in the press release that police and emergency services responded to a report of an unresponsive juvenile at an apartment complex just before midnight on Monday. An officer noticed ligature mark’s on the child’s neck. Authorities transported him to the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health where he died from his injuries on Tuesday morning. The child was 12 years old, according to KOCO, a local ABC affiliate outlet.

Detectives said in the press release that the child may not have died by suicide, but rather by a TikTok challenge “gone wrong.”

It’s unclear whether the Oklahoma child had a TikTok account or actively used the platform. A spokesperson for the BDP told Insider that the department could not provide information on the child, but said that investigators were looking into information from family and friends regarding his TikTok presence.

TikTok’s search guardrails do make it difficult to find content related to the challenge and Insider could not find evidence that the challenge has recently been trending on the app.

The ‘blackout challenge’ did not originate from TikTok

As Insider previously reported, the dangerous challenge can give people a high, but it’s recently been linked to the deaths of a 10-year-old in Italy in January and a nine-year-old in Tennessee in June.

Asphyxiation challenges, sometimes called the “choking game,” predate TikTok and even social media. While they previously spread by word-of-mouth, Time Magazine reported in 2018 that online platforms made information about them more accessible, which may have led more children to try it alone rather than with friends.

A 2008 CDC study identified 82 “probable choking-game deaths” between youths ages 6-19 from 1995-2007.

TikTok, which in the public consciousness has become synonymous with youth and Gen Z culture, is just the latest platform to be linked to this deadly challenge.

The challenge does not appear to be popular on TikTok

TikTok told Insider in a statement that the platform blocks “related hashtags and searches to discourage people from participating in or sharing potentially dangerous content.”

Searching the term “blackout challenge” on TikTok yields a “no results found” result and a warning that the phrase could be associated with behavior that violates TikTok’s community guidelines, which prohibit content that “depicts, promotes, normalizes, or glorifies … amateur stunts or dangerous challenges.”

TikTok's user interface, the text 'Blackout challenge' is typed into the search bar. The screen shows no results and a statement that the phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates tiktok's community guidelines.
Searching for ‘Blackout challenge’ or ‘Black out challenge’ returns a ‘no results found’ screen on TikTok. TikTok via Palmer Haasch/Insider

By searching for the terms with typos, Insider found several videos cautioning against participation or discussing the challenge, as well as alcohol-related content.

Still, TikTok has struggled in the past to remove dangerous challenges from the app.

Insider previously reported that a hashtag for the “nutmeg challenge,” which had people ingesting dangerous amounts of the spice, had over 46 million views at one point. TikTok said at the time that it was actively removing videos tied to the challenge and the hashtag has since become unavailable.

Other less dangerous but still potentially harmful trends, like stuffing garlic up your nose to relieve congestion, remain on the platform.

Hoax challenges that supposedly threaten children but really just stoke paranoia have spread online as well. In 2019, both the “Momo” and “Blue Whale” challenges generated panic online for supposedly encouraging children to take their own life, but as The Atlantic reported at the time, both were ultimately hoaxes that relied on a cycle of local news reporting and concerned parents overstating the challenges, which did not gain real popularity online.

To read more stories like this, check out Insider’s digital culture coverage here.