Italy Restricts TikTok Access Following Child’s Death

An alarming practice has wound up on the video-sharing service

An user opening TikTok on his iPhone in L'Aquila, Italy, on January 23, 2021.
Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last year, the United States explored the possibility of a ban on the video-sharing app TikTok, home to viral videos and (as of late) the revival of sea shanties. Now, the time has come for another country to turn a critical eye to the app. Italy is restricting access to TikTok so that only people whose age can be proven can access it. That is understandable — TikTok itself requires users to be at least 13. The reason for Italy’s crackdown is rooted in a tragic event — one with ties to a long-running and dangerous practice that predates the smartphone era.

A new report at The Guardian provides more context. Last week, a 10-year-old girl died after being taken to a hospital in Palermo. She was found at home by her sister; her parents revealed to local media that she had been playing “the blackout game.”

Also known as the “blackout challenge” and the “choking game,” the blackout game has been around for years. A 2018 article by Melissa Chan in Time pointed out an alarming statistic about this practice and its effects: “82 children between the ages of 6 and 19 died after playing the Choking Game between 1995 and 2007.”

The Time article notes that social media has helped this practice spread to an even wider audience than the word of mouth methods of a pre-smartphone era. Given the ability of social media to turn nearly anything into a meme or challenge, a version of the blackout game making it onto TikTok isn’t all that surprising — though it’s no less unsettling for it.

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