Flamethrower 'challenge' blamed for teen's horrific burns does not actually appear to be widespread on TikTok
- Numerous media outlets attributed Mason Dark's severe burns to a supposedly viral TikTok trend.
- The challenge is said to involve using spray paint and a lighter to create a makeshift flamethrower.
Numerous news outlets blamed a North Carolina teenager's severe burns on a viral TikTok challenge, prompting widespread coverage suggesting the app was driving dangerous behavior.
They suggested that 16-year-old Mason Dark's use of highly-flammable spray paint and a lighter to create a makeshift flamethrower was part of a challenge on the app.
Per Insider's research, there's little evidence to suggest that such a challenge was widespread on TikTok.
Insider searched for various terms related to the supposed viral challenge, all of which returned only a handful of relevant videos with a relatively few views.
Genuine trending issues on TikTok can rack up tens of millions of views in a short space of time — Insider found no evidence of posts approaching that threshold.
"Spray paint lighter," "aerosol lighter," "flamethrower challenge," and "blowtorch challenge," were among some of the terms which produced only limited results. Many posts were a year or more old.
It is still possible that Dark was reacting to one of those posts — but it does not appear to be part of a wider phenomenon where lots of other people were doing the same.
A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement provided to Insider: "This is not a 'challenge' on our platform."
They noted that the platform applies warnings to some videos that could be dangerous when they do appear on the app.
The spokesperson pointed to the existence of these sorts of videos on other platforms, notably YouTube, which go back as far as a decade.
Insider also framed the accident as a TikTok challenge gone wrong, citing the local outlet WRAL.
WRAL quoted Dark's mother saying "it is challenges on TikTok" that are to blame, without giving any specifics.
This phenomenon of attributing harmful incidents involving the death or injury of a child to TikTok has a long history, Insider's Palmer Haasch and Kieran Press-Reynolds previously reported.
A number of challenges, including the "blackout challenge," have been tied to TikTok despite there being little evidence that it originated or even existed on the platform.
Abbie Richards, a misinformation researcher who specializes in TikTok, told Insider in 2021 that many adults just don't understand TikTok, which creates an "alarm zone" and allows the platform to become a "boogeyman" for parents to place blame on.
Instead of adults "doing the actual work of understanding" TikTok, Richards said it's easier for them to create or add to a moral panic.
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