TikTok has issued a statement following the death of a 13-year-old boy in connection with the platform’s viral “Benadryl challenge.”
As People reported, the challenge involves ingesting large quantities of Benadryl — an antihistamine available for over-the-counter purchase — to get high. It reportedly claimed the life of Jacob Stevens, a teenager from Columbus, Ohio, who died less than a week after consuming 12–14 Benadryl pills.
According to Stevens’s family, the high amount of Benadryl in his bloodstream caused the teen to start seizing. On April 6, he was hospitalized and eventually put on a ventilator. He died six days later.
“When he did [the challenge], it all came at once, and it was too much for his body,” his father, Justin Stevens, told the local news outlet ABC 6. “No brain scan, there was nothing there. They said we could keep him on the [ventilator], that he could lay there, but he will never open his eyes, he’ll never breathe, smile, walk or talk.”
Since he believes Jacob learned about the challenge from TikTok, Justin urged other parents to monitor what their kids are doing on social media. “Talk to them about the situation,” he added. “I want everyone to know about my son.”
TikTok has also followed suit with a media statement discouraging “copycat behavior.”
TikTok has now warned against ‘copycat behavior.’
In a statement to People, a spokeperson for TikTok expressed their condolences to Jacob’s family. They also reaffirmed the platform’s committment to removing content that “promotes dangerous behavior” with user safety “as a priority.”
“We have never seen this type of content trend on our platform and have blocked searches for years to help discourage copycat behavior,” the statement read in part. “Our team of 40,000 safety professionals works to remove violations of our Community Guidelines, and we encourage our community to report any content or accounts they’re concerned about.”
Benadryl’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, has also labeled the challenge “dangerous.”
“We are working with TikTok and other social platforms to remove content that showcases this behavior,” the drug company said. “We will look to partner across industry and with key stakeholders to address this dangerous behavior.”
Although TikTok said it hasn’t seen this type of content trend, the FDA previously cautioned against the Benadryl challenge nearly three years ago.
“We are aware of news reports of teenagers ending up in emergency rooms or dying after participating in the ‘Benadryl Challenge’ encouraged in videos posted on the social media application TikTok,” the agency wrote in a news release from September 2020.
In the past, dangerous medical advice has also floated around on TikTok.
This isn’t the first time TikTokers have promoted a perilious trend or given dangerous medical advice. In the wake of Roe v. Wade‘s reversal last year, some users began sharing tips on how to induce an abortion using herbs. Many of these plants can be deadly in the wrong doses, so the trend was worrisome to medical experts and herbalists alike.
Herbal abortion videos violate TikTok’s community guidelines, which expressly prohibit content that “describes or provides instructional detail on how to perform a dangerous activity.”
The platform also bans any content promoting “dangerous games, dares, challenges, or stunts that might lead to injury or property damage.”
Jacob’s tragic story is an important reminder of how social media can endangerous impressionable teens. His father is right: Parents should talk to their kids about avoiding potentially dangerous TikTok challenges.
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