Dared by the Algorithm: Dangerous challenges are just a click away

A new report on risky content makes a case for the Kids Online Safety Act

Dangerous online challenges: a case for KOSA

On September 29 2022, Fairplay released new research investigating risky online challenges in a report called “Dared by the Algorithm: Dangerous challenges are just a click away.” This report explores two dangerous trends: car surfing – where people are filmed standing or riding on top of a moving car – and train surfing – where people ride on the top or outside of trains.  The research shows how readily the algorithms on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube show videos of these well-known trends to a research account registered as a 14 year-old boy. 

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the results are unmistakable: Algorithms across these platforms brazenly recommend slews of videos that applaud risky actions. With each recommended video, all three platforms violate their own code of conduct, which pledges to flag or remove content and disable accounts that glorifies dangerous acts. Worse, kids and teens have been severely injured and killed attempting these challenges.

Joann Bogard, whose son Mason passed away after attempting an online challenge, addresses Indiana Senator Braun (R) and presses him to co-sponsor KOSA (Kids Online Safety Act).

Here’s the good news.

There are a number of laws on the federal and state level that present provisions to minimize the harms of dangerous challenges. If passed into law, platforms like social media companies would be required to act in children’s best interest and mitigate against harms arising from the promotion of self harm and other matters that pose a physical threat to a minor. In addition to that baseline standard, these regulations would make dangerous challenges easier to avoid by allowing minors to opt out of algorithms that recommend them.