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Mother Blames TikTok For Daughter’s Death in ‘Blackout Challenge’ Suit
Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.
The mother of a 10-year-old girl who died after allegedly trying a dangerous online “challenge” has sued Culver City-based TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance, claiming the social media app’s algorithm showed her videos of people choking themselves until they pass out.
Nylah Anderson, an intelligent child who already spoke three languages, was “excruciatingly asphyxiated” and found unconscious in her bedroom on Dec. 7, according to a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Pennsylvania. She spent five days in pediatric intensive care until succumbing to her injuries.
The lawsuit, filed by her mother Tawainna Anderson, claims TikTok’s algorithm had previously shown Nylah videos depicting the “Blackout Challenge,” in which people hold their breath or choke themselves with household items to achieve a euphoric feeling. That encouraged her to try it herself, the lawsuit alleged.
“The TikTok Defendants’ algorithm determined that the deadly Blackout Challenge was well-tailored and likely to be of interest to 10-year-old Nylah Anderson, and she died as a result,” the suit said.
In a previous statement about Nylah’s death, a TikTok spokesperson noted the “disturbing” challenge predates TikTok, pointing to a 2008 warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about deadly choking games. The spokesperson claimed the challenge “has never been a TikTok trend.” The app currently doesn’t produce any search results for “Blackout Challenge” or a related hashtag.
“We remain vigilant in our commitment to user safety and would immediately remove related content if found,” the TikTok statement said. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family for their tragic loss.”
At least four other children or teens have died after allegedly attempting the Blackout Challenge, according to the Anderson lawsuit. TikTok has grappled with dangerous challenges on its platform before, including one in which people tried to climb a stack of milk crates. That was considered so dangerous that TikTok banned the hashtag associated with it last year. In February, TikTok updated its content rules to combat the dangerous acts and other harmful content.
The Anderson lawsuit comes as lawmakers and state attorneys general scrutinize how TikTok and other social media can be bad for teens and younger users, including by damaging their mental health, causing negative feelings about their body image and making them addicted to the apps.
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Tel Aviv-based Electreon specializes in wireless induction charging, similar to the technology that allows you to charge your cell phone on a wireless mat or dock without plugging it in. By embedding a system of coiled wires into the pavement, Electreon plans to turn the road itself into a charging station for vehicles—one that can be used even while cars are moving.
Founded in 2013, the company has already proven its technology can work via pilot programs in Sweden, Germany and Italy—as well as its homeland of Israel, where it’s a publicly traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. But on Tuesday, Electreon announced a partnership with Michigan public authorities, as well as private stakeholders like Ford Motor Company, to install a one-mile-long stretch of electrified road in Detroit—the first time such a system would be used in public roads in the U.S. The system is expected to be operational by next year.
Electreon, which opened its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles last month, is initially targeting fleet vehicles like taxis, buses and drayage trucks for its technology, but plans to eventually expand into the consumer EV market as well. Electric road systems would be especially attractive to fleet vehicles for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that they stop frequently. Time spent idling, especially in predictable locations, means it’s easier to know where to install electrified roads and make them cost-effective.
Stefan Tongur, Electreon’s L.A.-based vice president of business development, says the company’s induction charging technology will probably charge slower than the traditional plug-in station model. But if the pavement under every bus station was electrified, he told dot.LA, a small amount of charge would be added to the vehicle at every stop—meaning the bus would need to take fewer, if any, breaks to recharge its battery.
Image courtesy of Electreon
It’s easy to imagine similar use cases at ports, rail yards or airport taxi lanes, all of which could spell significant savings for companies that lose time and money when their electric fleet vehicles are plugged in and recharging. Many of these areas also fall under the purview of the private sector, which would make uptake and implementation easier, according to Tongur. He said Electreon is already eyeing a move into such spaces.
Electreon aims to have its wireless charging technology installed on public roads around the U.S. within “a couple of years,” Tongur added. While Detroit will host the pilot program, Los Angeles and New York will be the next targets.
“L.A. is obvious, right? It’s the Mecca of EVs,” he said. “You have air quality issues here; you have the port of L.A. and Long Beach; you have so much traffic. Moving to electrification is, I would say, a must.”
The goal of installing wireless charging for moving vehicles is “very courageous,” said Mehrdad Kazerani, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Kazerani noted that researchers at the university had developed a similar concept for the sprawling Trans-Canada Highway. “Of course, we did not pursue this idea, but it seems Electreon has made good progress along this line,” he said.
Kazerani added that wireless charging technology may also allow the EVs of the future to use considerably smaller batteries, which would make the cars lighter, more energy-efficient and less expensive. Smaller batteries would also mean less mining for battery materials and less waste when a battery reaches the end of its life.
“This is kind of an invitation to the U.S. market: to policymakers, state agencies, fleet owners and original equipment manufacturers,” Tongur said. “This is an opportunity to do things together—join us on this path and journey.”
Fintech startup Superjoi, which lets fans fund creators’ content projects, has raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding.
Superjoi raised the funding from fintech-focused investors including Ascension Ventures, QED Investors, Systema VC, Tomahawk and Modern Venture Partners. The round also included participation from senior leadership at e-commerce platform Shopify, fintech firm Revolut and Los Angeles-based live-in accelerator Launch House.
Based in West Hollywood, Superjoi’s platform allows creators to run Kickstarter-like campaigns to raise capital for projects, while giving fans the chance to suggest ideas for new content. Creators can also reward fans who chip in by giving them event tickets, merchandise or a personal video call. Later this year, Superjoi plans to help fans reap financial rewards, too—such as a share of advertising revenues generated from projects that they backed.
A screenshot from Superjoi's platform.
Major online platforms like Facebook and YouTube have increasingly monetized the relationship between creators and fans, targeting users with ads and sharing some of the revenues with creators. But Superjoi’s founders contend that fans have been completely cut out of the equation despite driving creators’ successes. In September, the startup began building a platform that would give fans a share of the financial upside, co-founder and CEO Chris Knight told dot.LA.
“Superjoi, as we position it, is liquidity with love,” Knight said. “The reason why we call it that is, for somebody who's creative, there's no better funding source for their creativity than the people who love them—and that’s their fans.”
Knight learned a lot about what he calls “superfans” after helping to build Fantom, a fan-focused smartwatch launched with England’s Manchester City Football Club. The Premier League team consults its fans on decisions relating to its stadium and sponsorships, he noted. “I see huge opportunities in the future for creators to actually have a deeper engagement with their audience and actually mobilize their audience to a new level,” Knight said.
From left: Superjoi co-founders Chris Knight, Piotr Wolanski and Soren Creutzburg Courtesy of Superjoi
Fans will initially fund projects on Superjoi by buying “supercoins,” an in-platform currency that is worth $1 each. While supercoins are not technically crypto tokens at this stage, the startup envisions letting fans invest in creators, earn a financial return and receive ownership in their content based on tokenization. Superjoi collects a 10% cut of a creator’s fundraising goal.
The platform plans to launch in mid-May with about 25 U.S.-based creators with larger audiences, and will onboard more creators on a waitlisted basis, Knight said. A full public launch is expected later this summer.
Superjoi, which has 14 employees, plans to use the new funds on growing its team, acquiring creators and marketing the platform.