Social Media Companies Routinely Ignore Reports Made by Parents Who Lost Children to Choking Challenges, Lethal Drugs Sold Online, and Suffering from Cyberbullying

By: Juyoun Han (Partner, Digital Technologies and Human Rights Group at Eisenberg & Baum LLP) and Cory Epstein (Legal Intern, J.D. Candidate at CUNY School of Law)

[A note from Fairplay. Joann and Annie are members of Fairplay’s Screen Time Action Network and both joined a group of incredible moms on Capitol Hill this November to share their stories with lawmakers. This guest blog from Juyoun and Cory details their stories and how they are tirelessly working to hold platforms accountable for the harms they cause. Way to go Joann and Annie!]

Joann Bogard and Annie McGrath experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. They lost their sons, Mason and Griffin, who both attempted a viral, online trend called the Choking Challenge, where participants choke themselves until rendered unconscious. Their class action lawsuit, filed on February 2, 2023, identified Joann and Annie as modern day champions of child safety online. Since their loss, Joann and Annie voluntarily took up the task of searching for choking challenge videos on social media outlets and submitting user reports in accordance with the social media companies’ protocols for harmful content reports. The lawsuit describes how social media companies like TikTok and YouTube ignored these parents’ reports and even responded that the videos were not violative of their community guidelines. 

Joann Bogard expressed frustration after making content reports on videos depicting the deadly Blackout Challenge that took her son’s life stating, “these videos remain posted and viewable to many young users. Time and time again, they ignore my pleas to remove them.” Annie McGrath conveys that the continued failures of social media companies to appropriately address her reports of dangerous videos thriving on their platforms is a constant reminder and “re-traumatization of what we, forever-sad parents, have to endure each day.”

Joann and Annie were not the only ones that felt ignored by the companies. Jane Doe, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, went through a traumatizing event where she had to witness a TikTok video go viral depicting harassing messages about her son from his peers and strangers. With the assistance of friends, she sought to report the harmful content to no avail. 

The Becca Schmill Foundation launched a research study with the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) to conduct a research study which revealed that TikTok and YouTube responded to less than 5% of users’ reports about harmful content on the platforms. Deb Schmill, the President of the Becca Schmill Foundation [and also an Action Network member], said that she and others “are hoping this lawsuit leads to significant changes in the way reports of illegal and harmful content are dealt with by the platforms.”

Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Juyoun Han and Eric Baum of Eisenberg & Baum LLP. This case is filed in the Southern District of Indiana. Bogard et al. v. TikTok et al., Case No. 23-cv-00012 (Southern District of Indiana).

To learn more about the lawsuit, the Complaint, and the Legal Team, see here.

[…] Additions from Fairplay