Bucks County prosecutors allege that Raffaela Spone used deepfake images and videos to bully several of her daughter’s cheer squad members. The alleged behavior merited multiple harassment charges for the Pennsylvania mom who anonymously cyberbullied teens using doctored images and video that made it look like the minors were engaged in illicit behavior.
In charging documents, the Hilltown Township Police Department accused the 50-year-old mom of harassing several of the staff and team members of the Victory Vipers cheer squad in Doylestown.
A mom is accused of using deepfake images and sending messages encouraging suicide to minors.
The term deepfake refers to images or videos that have been manipulated using software to make it look like a person is engaged in something they are not.
Cheerleader Madi Hime told NBC’s Stephanie Gosk that her cheer trainers said they’d received a video that appeared to show her vaping. The teen and her mother, Jennifer Hime, both said it’s fake. Madi also said she received threatening calls and texts from unknown numbers, some insinuating she should take her own life.
“I was just so much in shock with everything going on,” Madi told Today in a segment aired Monday. “I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on.”
“I felt like if I said to someone … no one would trust me. They have the video on proof, even though the video wasn’t real,” the cheerleader added.
The alleged harassment extends beyond the vaping video. In a criminal complaint, the victims allege that images on social media were doctored in order to make it look like the cheerleader was naked and drinking alcohol. After seeing the images, Jennifer Himes got in touch with the police.
“I didn’t know how to protect her from that. I didn’t know who to protect her from,” the concerned mom told the outlet. “There were a lot of sleepless nights.”
Authorities believe that Raffaela Spone, the mother of one of Madi’s cheer teammates on the Victory Vipers, produced the alleged deepfakes. Spone is charged with three counts each of cyber harassment of a child and harassment.
“My client denies what they have charged her with, and we are going to aggressively fight this,” the accused’s lawyer, Robert Birch, said in a statement.
The cheer organization, Victory Vipers, also released a statement regarding the harassment allegations. “Victor Vipers has always promoted a family environment, and we are sorry for all individuals involved,” the Vipers’ team said in a statement.
While the deepfake news is shocking, deepfakes are not a completely new trend. In fact, videos on TikTok and YouTube showing Tom Cruise appearing to do magic tricks and other shenanigans perplexed viewers earlier this year.
The videos were complete fakes. The creator had superimposed the superstar actor’s face onto someone else’s body to achieve the con.
Using readily available software, these videos have become surprisingly easy to create. You no longer need to be a special effects expert to produce deepfake videos which is very alarming! We’re not the only ones freaked out by the prospect.
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NBC spoke with Matt Weintraub, the district attorney of Bucks County in Pennsylvania, about the Himes case. He is concerned about the rise of deepfakes as a form of harassment.
“We’ve always taken for granted that a photo is a photo, or a video is a video. We can’t take that for granted any longer,” he told the outlet.
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