Recently, TikTok hired Praesidio Safeguarding - a consulting agency that researches online environments - to communicate with teenagers, parents and teachers from 10 countries about dangerous online challenges.
Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s head of safety public policy in Europe, said at the time: “We take our responsibility to support and protect teens seriously - giving them tools to stay in control, mitigating risks they might face, and building age-appropriate experiences - so they can safely make the most of what TikTok has to offer them.”
Praesidio Safeguarding surveyed 10,900 people across the globe to help understand why controversial posts get the attention they do. One finding showed that nearly half of the teenagers interviewed wanted more information to help understand the risks involved with online challenges.
There have been many dangerous challenges in TikTok’s short history. Some of these include the scalp pop challenge, the dry scoop challenge, the outlet challenge and the Benadryl challenge. Some of the injuries sustained in attempts to mimic these trends have made global news as well as being subsequently banned by the app.
Milk Crate Challenge
Way back in August 2021, the Milk Crate Challenge was all the rage. This trend involved stacking several milk crates into a stair formation which punters would then attempt to climb. Obviously, not everyone succeeded, making this challenge one of the most popular and most dangerous. Medical professionals were quick to point out this challenge poses a clear and serious risk of grave injury.
“The Milk Crate Challenge is very dangerous, and we are seeing many orthopaedic injuries as a result of the falls,” orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Shawn Anthony told Today. “Injuries can include broken wrists, shoulder dislocations, ACL and meniscus tears, as well as life-threatening conditions like spinal cord injuries.”
Dry Scoop Challenge
In November 2021, wondering what to do following TikTok’s ban of the Milk Crate Challenge, users moved on to one of the fitness trends, the Dry Scoop Challenge. This trend involved taking a scoop of pre-workout or protein powder before exercising. Nothing too strange, right? A ritual followed by plenty of gym-goers. But here’s the thing: TikTokers weren’t diluting it in water or milk. They were knocking back spoonful’s of the stuff dry.
Understandably, this decision didn’t go down smoothly with attempters of the challenge, who often found themselves choking on the powder, coughing up white clouds of protein dust. For some, the results were even worse: 22-year-old exotic dancer Briatney Portillo tried the challenge only to end up in the hospital for a heart attack.
Scalp Popping Challenge
Full disclosure: almost every single challenge on this list involves young people deliberately trying to injure themselves or the people around them. The Scalp Popping Challenge is no exception, and kinda does what it says on the tin. In this craze, users would yank on a lock of their own hair in order to create a noticeable popping sound. Neat!
While a lot of users who performed the challenge got off easy following the scalp pop, medical experts were up in arms warning that the stunt could lead to injury. “What you’re trying to do is pull tissue layers apart in your scalp,” said paediatrician Dr. Andrew Doyle. “If you pull too hard or the wrong way you risk tearing the tissue, tearing the skin and pulling out a lot of hair.”
There are some challenges that manage to go under the radar on TikTok. They remain seen only by those trying it, and those in the know. Then there are some that leak to the media and the mums of Facebook. The Benadryl Challenge was one such challenge. What did it entail? Take a wild guess! It involved Benadryl, teenagers, social media and a desire to be the coolest.
This trend was extremely dangerous. Two teens were rushed to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas after taking excessive amounts of the medication. They got the idea of taking Benadryl after watching a TikTok video that said they could get high and hallucinate if they took at least a dozen Benadryl pills. Turns out that was, in fact, a bad idea. What the TikTok video failed to add was that abusing Benadryl can also cause seizures, high heart rates and trigger arrhythmias.
While we’re on the subject of challenges around everyday things that have a secret potential to get you high, let us introduce you to the Nutmeg Challenge. This trend encouraged users to consume two tablespoons of ground nutmeg mixed in water. The concoction was said to trigger a hallucinogenic high similar to LSD. TikTokers who tried that Nutmeg Challenge claimed to see walls “melting”. Others described it as a mellow marijuana-esque high.
Research has found drowsiness, dry mouth, confusion and seizures to be possible effects of this dangerous challenge. Nutmeg poisoning has also been linked to organ failure and even death when combined with other drugs. According to case studies from the Illinois Poison Center, just 2 teaspoons (or 10 grams) of nutmeg is enough to cause toxicity. Over 50 grams, the symptoms can become life-threatening.
January 2020. Two months before the pandemic. We’ve never had it better. We don’t know the meaning of boredom and pain. We don’t understand consequences. As a result, we’re doing dumber and dumber things, including electrocuting ourselves using power outlets. That’s right, the Outlet Challenge was a real thing done by real people in a real world. Users would partially plug a phone charger into a power outlet before dropping coins onto the exposed prongs creating spurts of lethal sparks.
Numerous incidents were reported of the outlet challenge going wrong, including a situation where Massachusetts firefighters were called to a school. “It’s not something to play with. It’s dangerous. In the case of this, you can start a fire, you can do electrical damage to your home that costs a lot of money to repair, and you can do serious physical damage to yourself,” Todd Long of Huntsville Utilities told ABC News at the time.
Inspired by the Drake song “In My Feelings,” which contains the lyric, “Kiki, do you love me?,” this trend required performers to dance along with a moving car before jumping back in. At the start, performers jump out of the car and dance to the first few lines of the song, mostly in the middle of traffic. They then hop back in before anyone or anything can mow them down.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, numerous TikTok users have been injured since the dawn of this 2018 trend, including Iowa native Ann Worden who fell while attempting the challenge, sustaining a fractured skull, brain bleeding and blood clots. “It may seem fun, and it may seem easy, but at the same time, they could be so dangerous,” Worden later said. Strange that significant head trauma enlightened her on the dangers of the Kiki Challenge.
When it comes to cracking your back, please, leave it to the professionals. Though it might seem handy, and a great deal cheaper, to try to remedy an aching spine yourself, the risks are very real. Someone attempting to crack their own back may end up in a position that overstretches their back muscles. Cracking your back, and spinal manipulation, may also carry a small risk of stroke. Spinal manipulation that focuses on the neck could cause potentially dangerous tears in the neck arteries, too.
The Backcracking Challenge paid no attention to these disclaimers, with pairs of people gleefully hooking themselves back-to-back in order to crack each other. “That video was hard to watch,” one doctor told Buzzfeed. “This ‘adjustment’ can be very detrimental to the spine because it’s not being performed correctly. Doing exercises like this at home can be very dangerous as it can twist or pull someone’s spine out of place.”
What if I took an entire latex condom and snorted it through my nose and pulled it out of my mouth for entertainment purposes? This question arose in the mind of one TikTok user and managed to turn it into a challenge. This trend - the condom up the nose and out the mouth thing - actually caught on. People saw it and thought, “That looks great!” And then they did it, with an actual condom, up through their nose and out of their mouth. This happened.
This is a real thing. Don’t believe us? Google it. We’re not providing any more detail. There’s nothing else that needs to be said. No quotes from doctors saying how bad it is. You know it’s bad. You don’t need us to tell you. Let’s end it right there and never speak of it again.
Long before the invention of TikTok, the “choking game” had been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. 82 children were reported to have died playing the game between 1995 and 2007 in the US alone, establishing this is TikTok’s far and away most dangerous craze. Today, it’s called the Blackout Challenge, and involves the simple yet destructive act of cutting off your air supply to the point of unconsciousness.
Though mind-boggling to most outsiders, this trend was depressingly popular at its peak. And the results were fatal. A 10-year-old girl died while participating in the Blackout Challenge, along with a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old boy. The tragic losses prompted data protection watchdogs to call for a ban on the platform for users with unconfirmed ages. TikTok then banned all searches and videos pertaining to the challenge.