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‘High’ of being TikTok famous is killing millennials, Gen Zs

Tessie Hires’ son was dying to be famous — and a dangerous TikTok stunt sealed his fate. 

“If I would have known about some of the dangerous things he was doing in his TikTok videos, as his mother, I would have stopped him and he’d still be here with me,” Hires, 37, told The Post as her voice trembled and tears streamed down her face.

The Florida woman’s 18-year-old son Timothy Isaiah Hall, known to his more than 273,000 followers as @TimboTheRedneck, died on July 31 while attempting a “fishtailing” stunt to impress his online audience. 

The daredevil deed propelled Hall out of his beloved GMC truck’s driver’s side window. His 4,000-pound-plus pickup — nicknamed “Big Booty Judy” after he received it as a high school graduation gift in May — toppled on its side and onto his body, crushing his internal organs.

Timbo died with more than 2.5 million “likes” to his credit.

He is but one of the disturbing and growing number of digital influencers who’ve recently suffered severe “skull-breaker” injuries, dry-scoop-induced heart attacks, possible eating disorders and even deaths while executing reckless stunts in the name of social media superstardom via TikTok. 

Among the first of the TikTok tragedies was Chloe Phillips, a 15-year-old from Oklahoma who died of a heart attack in August 2020 after taking on the Benadryl Challenge, in which the goal is to film oneself hallucinating from the medication.

Joshua Haileyesus, 12, was discovered unconscious on March 22 by his twin brother on a bathroom floor of their Colorado home after attempting TikTok’s Blackout Challenge, in which teens hold their breath until passing out on video. He was pronounced brain dead and died after 19 days on life support.

Equally alarming is the number of deaths by suicide racked up by teens and 20-somethings despite millions of followers and lucrative digital “clout.”

“My son loved TikTok, and always wanted to make the best videos for his fans,” Hires told The Post of her late son, who beguiled viewers with his controversial “Confederate comedy” and “Timbo’s #LivingSouthern” shtick. “But he took his love for being popular on the app too far. And now he’s gone forever and my heart is broken. It will always be broken.”

Joshua Haileyesus, 12, was initially left brain dead from the TikTok Blackout Challenge, which dares people to choke themselves until they pass out. The Colorado boy died as a result of his injuries in April. His father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, told his local CBS outlet that he wants other parents to be aware of the danger.
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The video-sharing giant — launched in 2016 by the Chinese technology company ByteDance — did not respond to The Post’s request for a comment on the well-documented uptick in influencer tragedies. 

However, medical experts have plenty to say about millennial and Gen Z fame-seekers becoming addicted to the euphoric sensation of attaining notoriety via hazardous TikTok tactics. They’re concerned that the threat of death isn’t enough to deter young people from the allure of internet infamy. 

“The intoxication a person feels from the combination of dopamine and adrenaline that’s released when their posts go viral is unbelievable,” New York University psychologist Yamalis Diaz told The Post. “Neurologically, that high is like a drug.”

According to Diaz, once viral hopefuls experience the initial “hit” of online popularity, they’ll stop at almost nothing to recapture and maintain that electrifying thrill.

“TikTok and other platforms are constantly raising the bar on what it takes to be widely noticed — and what it takes to sustain that top-ranking status,” she added. “And unless the apps become more proactive about immediately banning dangerous trends, young people will continue putting themselves at risk by doing these catastrophic stunts in the hopes to gain views and followers.”

Uber driver and social media personality Renard Smith welcomed 1,500 new social media fans after he narrowly avoided snapping his spine while attempting the infamous Milk Crate Challenge in August. 

“I’d do it again, I’d just wear padding next time,” Smith, 29, told The Post of the since-banned phenomenon that resulted in a string of life-threatening damages across the country — including torn ligaments, bone fractures and spinal cord injuries. 

Uber driver and YouTube personality Renard Smith welcomed 1,500 new social media fans after he narrowly avoided snapping his spine while attempting the infamous Milk Crate Challenge in August.
Social media personality Renard Smith, 29, racked up 1,500 new social media fans after he narrowly avoided snapping his spine while attempting the infamous Milk Crate Challenge in August.
Courtesy Renard Smith

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound father of five only sustained a massive bruise and a sore back when he fell from the 7-foot-high mountain of plastic containers his friends constructed in the front yard of his Houston home. And the trending footage of his epic fail garnered over 100,000 views. 

“It was painful, but worth it,” said Smith, an aspiring rapper. “It’s not often people go as viral as I did, and I’m thankful for the attention the video brought to my music and social accounts.”

Australian “Big Brother” star Tilly Whitfeld also went viral when she taped two sewing needles together and injected fake tattoo ink that she purchased from eBay into the pores of her face. She was following the steps of TikTok’s viral Freckles DIY hack. 

“So many influencers do this, and I’ve seen some with millions of views and likes,” said Whitfeld, 21, who took a stab at the dicey beauty how-to just two months before her reality TV debut in August 2020. 

The ink used in the makeshift procedure poisoned Whitfeld’s face. Her infected skin broke out with thick red blotches, and her face was so severely swollen that she temporarily lost her vision. More than a year later, she told The Post her skin “is still healing. It will never be the same. It is permanently scarred.”

And while Whitfeld cautions her over 172,000 social media supporters against testing out potentially harmful trends and tricks, she’s also undeniably pleased with her global renown. 

“I was gaining thousands of followers a day,” she said of her viral moment in the spotlight. “My star was shared all over the world.”

She’s also not afraid to continue taking whacks at other iffy TikTok hacks. 

“I’m doing trends all the time,” Whitfeld admitted to The Post, noting that most of the fads she follows are geared toward correcting her skin. “I have nothing to lose.”

A growing number of digital influencers have recently suffered severe “skull-breaker” injuries, dry-scoop-induced heart attacks, possible eating disorders and even deaths while executing reckless stunts in the name of social media superstardom via TikTok.
NY Post composite

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