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TikTok #seizurechallenge is ‘very offensive,’ epilepsy organization says

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A TikTok challenge that encourages young people to mimic having a seizure on camera has caught the attention of the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance (CEA) who have denounced the videos as “offensive”. 

Labelled the “seizure challenge,” the trend encourages TikTok users to feign having what the CEA describes as a tonic-clonic seizure to the song “Lucid Dreams” by rapper Juice WRLD

The 21-year-old hip hop star, born as Jared Anthony Higgins, died in December 2019 after he had a seizure at Chicago’s Midway airport. The medical examiner’s office for Cook County ruled Juice WRLD’s cause of death as a drug overdose

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While most of the “seizure challenge” videos were first shared in December, coinciding with Juice WRLD’s death, the CEA released a statement on April 30 to address the issue.

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“The mockery of seizures is extremely inappropriate and very offensive to those living with epilepsy and their families,” the CEA wrote on Twitter, adding that the organization is “deeply disturbed” and “saddened” that these videos are allowed to be shared. 

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder of the central nervous system that impacts the brain specifically. Symptoms include unprovoked, recurrent seizures, according to the CEA.

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About 260,000 Canadians have epilepsy, according to the CEA, which is estimated to be around seven people per 1,000, the organization states on its website.

People living with epilepsy are still coming across the videos on social media which prompted the CEA to address the months-old trend, said Paul Raymond, chief executive officer of the Ontario branch of the Alliance. 

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“We thought it was important to reiterate that epilepsy is not a joke or something to be made fun of,” he said in an email statement to Global News. “The CEA does not support this type of highly inappropriate activity.”

If your children use TikTok and may be exposed to these videos, use online educational tools and information about epilepsy so they can understand the illness isn’t something to joke about, said Mackenzie Muldoon, director of communications at the CEA’s Toronto branch.

“A lot of people live with it,” she said. “It’s really important that people do take a stand against it, whether it affects you or someone you love. I guarantee someone in your life lives with epilepsy.”

Parents need to be more social media-literate: expert

In the last week, petitions have surfaced asking TikTok to remove this kind of content from their platform. So far, TikTok hasn’t responded to those requests.

Regardless of whether TikTok should be removing offensive content, parents need to take more responsibility when it comes to social media and trends that emerge, said Mohit Rajhans, a Toronto-based media professional and member of the collective Dadspotting

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As parents, it’s important to learn about what platforms your kids are interested in and how they operate so you can better guide them, instead of being dismissive, he explained. They will end up using the platform regardless of your opinion of it, he added.

“If you feel like as a parent that you don’t have a general understanding of what your kids are communicating online through the content that they’re creating, then you’re part of the problem,” he said.

Becoming more social-media literate will help you understand what they are creating, why and how to monitor if they see or create inappropriate content, he explained.

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“The responsibility comes back on us, we need to start to become a little bit more accountable to understand how our children are behaving online,” he said.

For parents, it can seem like an uphill battle dealing with multiple platforms, with new ones emerging that are difficult to keep up with, he said. 

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But even if you are struggling to understand a platform like TikTok, you can do your research and use the “seizure challenge” as an opportunity to start a conversation with your child about problematic trends that can emerge from social media, he said.

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The consequences of going viral

Teens and children could use guidance when it comes to offensive social media trends, as the “seizure challenge” won’t be the first of these videos they will come across, said Tanya Hayles, a Toronto-based event producer and founder of Black Moms Connection. 

“We as adults, we know that this is offensive, and there are some children and teens who know the same thing, but the ones who are probably doing this, they aren’t thinking deeply,” she said, adding that the desire to see their video go viral may be some of the motivation to do the challenge.

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“They’re not thinking of the repercussions,” she said. Knowing about the challenge could be an opportunity to revisit guidelines you may have set out when you gave your child their phone, along with learning about epilepsy together, she said. 

Reminding them of the consequences of going viral by doing something offensive on the internet could be a helpful deterrent as well, she adds. There are countless examples of adults even losing their jobs because they didn’t think twice about what they were posting, she explained. 

“Everything thinks that they want to go viral, but the reality is, you post something on the internet, it’s permanent,” she said. “That’s probably more likely to hit them….views and engagement matter to them, but here’s the flip side to that.

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“There are consequences to being online…they just need to be explained the consequences a little more deeply,” she said.

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