A Pennsylvania woman allegedly released doctored photos and videos of her teenage daughter’s cheerleading rivals naked, drinking, or smoking in a desperate bid to get the girls booted off the team. She now faces multiple charges of cyber harassment of a child.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Raffaela Spone, 50, anonymously sent the images to the cheerleading coaches and the girls themselves. According to the affidavit, Spone’s messages also urged the girls to kill themselves.
From the Inquirer:
The affidavit says Spone last year created the doctored images of at least three members of the Victory Vipers, a traveling cheerleading squad based in Doylestown. There was no indication that her high school-age daughter, who was not publicly identified, knew what her mother was doing, according to court records.
After analyzing the videos, detectives determined they were “deepfakes” — digitally altered but realistic looking images — created by mapping the girls’ social media photos onto other images.
Detectives traced the phone numbers to a website specializing in selling them to telemarketers, and followed the data to an IP address that showed activity from within Spone’s house in Chalfont. After searching Spone’s smartphone, detectives found evidence linking her to the numbers used to send the harassing texts and images, the affidavit said.
One of the girls involved in the case is 15-year-old Madi, who says she was taunted by threatening calls and texts from unknown numbers. Madi’s cheerleading coaches also received an altered video showing her vaping at a party.
“I felt like... no one would trust me, they have the video [as] proof, even though the video wasn’t real,” Madi said in a Today interview Monday.
Madi’s mother added, “I didn’t know how to protect her from that, I didn’t know who to protect her from. There were a lot of sleepless nights.”
The growing popularity of deepfakes has alarmed and impressed both the public and tech ethicists. Just last week, an impressive deepfake of Tom Cruise went viral, but the technology is becoming increasingly popular in commercial spheres, with businesses using the technology behind deepfakes for news broadcasts, job training, and customer service purposes. These are harmless ventures, and there are arguments to be made about the value of deep fake technology as an accessibility equalizer. Still, their convenience for far nefarious purposes, like altering the words of world leaders or—as in this case of the cheerleaders—using it to create revenge porn, is cause for serious concern. You don’t have to be a Luddite to wonder if there’s another way to improve accessibility that won’t make it easier for a vengeful stage mom to produce child pornography.
How soon until this becomes adapted into a seven-part miniseries on Hulu?