Recently, a judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against TikTok that placed blame on the company for the death of a child who tried to take part in a viral “choking challenge.” Notably, the “Choking Game” predates social media websites and has been a concern for the Centers for Disease Control for over 20 years.
The judge held that TikTok is protected from such lawsuits by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because TikTok was only circulating videos posed by other users.
All popular social media apps use algorithms, or codes that work behind the scenes, to push videos or posts with users who have looked at similar content. Twitter has the option for users to turn their “home timeline” algorithm off, but TikTok does not allow users to disable their algorithm because the algorithm is essential to TikTok’s design. TikTok, like other social media platforms, does ban dangerous content and encourages other users to report it.
Despite the many positive aspects of social media, its use by children and teens is not without risk. It can expose children to additional forms of bullying, pornography, identity theft, and online predators. Parents are understandably nervous about the online world their children are navigating and unsure how to patrol the use of unfamiliar technology.
Under the Child Online Privacy Protection Rule, children under the age of 13 are generally prohibited from creating accounts on social media websites, but children often register accounts under false birth dates. Many parents are not even aware that their children have such accounts. Today, most online activity occurs on personal devices (tablets, laptops or phones). Most families don’t have a dedicated “computer station” where parents can peek over their kid’s shoulder once in a while.
This individual relationship with technology is why K-12 online education and honest conversations about online activity are important and why laws that attempt to replace parental responsibility with state authority are doomed to fail.
As with junk food, at some point, it’s the parent’s job to intervene and teach their child how to maintain a healthy body and mind and watch for hazardous behavior.