Italy has blocked popular video-sharing app TikTok for certain users following the death of a 10-year-old girl who took part in the so-called “blackout challenge” on the network.
Italian attorneys have opened an investigation into the Chinese service after the girl died at Palermo hospital in Sicily, specifically they are investigating whether there was possible “incitement to suicide.” Rome has also temporarily blocked access to the service for people who are unable to verify their age.
The girl’s father told La Repubblica newspaper that “we didn’t know she was participating in this game. We knew that our (daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?”
The so-called “blackout challenge” refers to wrapping a scarf or similar object around the neck to restrict oxygen to the brain, which creates a temporary high.
So far, the child’s death has been met with a chorus of outrage across both the Italian public and political domains.
Big data protection news: Italy enforces preliminary ban against TikTok after death of 10 year old girl, prohibiting “the further processing of data of users who are on the Italian territory for whom there is no absolute certainty of age.” DPA will now examine TikTok’s response. https://t.co/3EULdSNQDs— Samuel Stolton (@SamuelStolton) January 22, 2021
“Social networks can’t become a jungle where anything is allowed,” proclaimed Licia Ronzulli, president of Italy’s parliamentary commission on child protection.
In a statement, the Italian Data Protection Authority noted that it would, “block the social media network [TikTok]” until February 15, by which point it demanded TikTok would have to implement new regulations on age verification.
In response, TikTok issued its own statement, saying that it could not locate any information on its service that may have encouraged the young girl to take her own life, although it was helping Italian authorities to look into whether there was any such “incitement to suicide.”
“The safety of the TikTok community is our absolute priority, for this motive we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes or glorifies behaviour that could be dangerous,” a TikTok spokesperson has been widely quoted as saying.
This is not the first time that TikTok has been in the firing line of Italian authorities.
Back in December 2020, Italy’s data protection agency filed a lawsuit against the network, accusing it of a “lack of attention to the protection of minors,” pointing out that children are able to sign up to the app without having provide sufficient age verification.