This boat jumping TikTok challenge went viral. Turns out it was a hoax

FILE: Boat speeds throught the sunlight sparkling off the Monongahela River, Pittsburgh
FILE: Boat speeds throught the sunlight sparkling off the Monongahela River, Pittsburgh Copyright AP Photo
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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You’ve probably seen many news outlets warning parents about this dangerous summer trend. How did it turn out to be false?


Multiple international news outlets falsely reported last week that at least four people died in the US state of Alabama while attempting a dangerous boat jumping challenge on the social media platform TikTok. 

It all started with an interview by an ABC News affiliate of Jim Dennis, the captain of a volunteer organisation of first responders for emergencies and natural disasters.

“They were doing a TikTok challenge [...] Unfortunately, it was a video. Some were even recorded with their children in their boats. They thought they were doing something fun that they were going to put on the Internet. But it ended up taking their lives," said Dennis. 

But Alabama’s main public safety agency swiftly denied this, tweeting that the information given in the interview isn't true. 

“The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Marine Patrol Division does not have any record(s) of boating or marine-related fatalities in Alabama that can 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.

We reached out to TikTok and they told us no boat-jumping challenges have ever been trending on the platform. 

The social network’s community guidelines prohibit users from showing or promoting “ dangerous activities and challenges."

Meanwhile, Jim Dennis, recanted his statements saying the media blew his interview "out of proportion."

So what’s behind this misinformation?  "I think there's been a kind of misunderstanding of what a TikTok challenge is in general," explained Elizabeth Losh, a professor of English at the College of William & Mary, who has studied TikTok trends.

"They tend not to actually be dangerous and there is a tendency to actually kind of demonise that platform and associate it with risky behavior when really most challenges are pretty harmless and involve things like dancing."

But this isn’t the first time social media platforms have been accused of promoting these fake challenges. 

You may remember the Momo Challenge in 2019, where a scary image of a cartoon woman allegedly appeared on your child’s cellphone screen and pressured them to kill themselves.

It caused a worldwide moral panic but in the end, turned out to be false like many of these shocking challenges.

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