Over the recent years TikTok has become controversial for the inadvertent promotion of dangerous challenges. The list for such stunts is very long indeed. The latest can cause you to break your neck and die instantly. It is perhaps the most dangerous to have along thus far. That is, if it actually exists.
In recent days, media reported that four people in Alabama were killed after taking the challenge. Captain Jim Dennis of the Childersburg Rescue Squad confirmed that the four individuals met with instant death when they jumped from the moving boat, sustaining fatal neck injuries in the process.
Captain Dennis also said: “I think people, if they’re being filmed on camera, I think they’re more likely to do something stupid because they want to show off in front of their friends for social media.”
The news of a deadly TikTok “boat jumping” challenge being the cause of these four deaths was reported and widely shared by publications across the world, including on mainstream network news in the United States. It generated questions about social media liability, personal responsibility and public safety.
But now it seems that it may have been a howling example of “fake news.”
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said its Marine Patrol Division had “no records of boating or marine-related deaths that could be directly linked to TikTok or a trend on TikTok.”
It noted that one person was fatally injured after jumping from a moving boat in 2020 and a similar case happened in 2021, but that neither death was linked to TikTok.
In a follow up email to The Associated Press, the agency provided details about six water-related deaths marine patrol investigated so far this year. None of the incident reports mentions TikTok or any such challenge.
On July 8, for example, a 79-year-old man drowned after falling off his boat without a life vest while fishing overnight on a river. A day earlier, a 65-year-old man drowned after he got off a pontoon boat to help a dog in a lake.
The other fatalities included a 19-year-old who crashed his jet ski into a tree in May and a man who apparently drowned in January after the vessel he was on struck a bridge and capsized.
The media sources that had that initially reported on the TikTok challenge deaths, like People magazine, the New York Post, have since updated their stories to include the state’s response. It also looks like in some cases, videos purporting to show people engaged in the challenge have been disabled.
But social media users, in English and in Spanish, are still sharing the claims as accurate.
Meanwhile Dennis, the local first responder quoted in the original story, walked back his comments after state officials weighed in this week.
He told AL.com, another local news outlet in Alabama, that his remarks during an interview about boating safety were taken out of context, but he maintained that his organization has responded to reports of people who jumped off boats this year.
“It got blown way out of proportion,” said Dennis, who didn’t respond to requests for additional comment this week.