Another dangerous TikTok trend has taken the life of a young girl. A 10-year-old in Italy reportedly died while participating in the TikTok “blackout game,” according to authorities. The shocking loss has prompted data protection watchdogs to call for a ban on the platform for users with unconfirmed ages.
Multiple sources report that Antonella Sicomero’s five-year-old sister discovered her unconscious in the bathroom of their Palermo, Sicily home on January 20. While first responders rushed the girl to the hospital, at some point she went into cardiac arrest. Doctors declared her dead the following day.
According to the Sicomero’s parents, one of her sisters said that she had been “playing the blackout game” — a TikTok trend that involves cutting off one’s air supply until the point of unconsciousness. Newsweek reported that the girl is said to have asphyxiated herself with a belt.
A Deadly Trend Goes Viral
As Time notes, variations of the trend, also known as the “choking game,” have been around since long before TikTok. The outlet reported that 82 children died playing the game between 1995 and 2007 in the US alone.
However, the advent of social media and viral challenges has given the trend dangerous new life. Last year, Parentology reported on a variation of the challenge that involved TikTok users blacking out intentionally by waving their heads from side to side.
Speaking to the Mirror in February 2020, a doctor described the challenge as “very risky.”
“What is actually going on in the brain is a lack of oxygen similar to when someone is drowning, choking or having cardiac arrest,” he said. “It causes brain hypoxia or low levels of oxygen in the brain and that can cause seizures and death. If you have low oxygen to the brain for over three minutes you can get brain damage and if you have low oxygen to the brain for over five minutes it can result in death.”
Sicomero’s parents told The Guardian they weren’t aware of such dangerous trends on TikTok.
“We knew that (our daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos,” said the girl’s father, Angelo. “How could I imagine this atrocity?”
In response to the tragedy, the Italian Data Protection Authority (GPDP) “has ordered TikTok to immediately block the use of user data for which the age of the user has not been ascertained with certainty,” it said in a statement to press.
On Friday, January 22, TikTok pledged to cooperate with authorities in the matter.
“We have received and are currently reviewing the notification from [GPDP],” the company said in a statement. “Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok and we are constantly strengthening our policies, processes and technologies to protect all users, and our younger users in particular.”