Photo: Philippe Huguen (Getty Images)
Authorities say a Pennsylvania woman anonymously sent her daughter’s cheerleading coaches deepfake photos and videos of rival teammates naked, drinking, or smoking to get them kicked off the squad, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. She also reportedly sent this manipulated content to the teammates themselves and harassed them with texts urging them to commit suicide, prosecutors said per the outlet.
This case reads like the plot of a Lifetime movie, I swear.
Raffaela Spone, a 50-year-old mother in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, allegedly used social media photos of at least three cheerleaders and doctored them to create deceptively altered videos and photos known as deepfakes. She’s facing three counts of cyber harassment of a child and three additional counts of harassment, according to the Hilltown Township Police Department. So far there’s been no indication that Spone’s teenage daughter, who has not been publicly identified, had any clue what her mom was doing, court records said per the Inquirer.
Local authorities launched an investigation into reports of a juvenile receiving harassing texts from an unknown number in July, the department said. The girl and her cheerleading coaches were reportedly sent images that appeared to depict her naked, drinking, and smoking a vape, the affidavit said according to the Inquirer. Over the course of the investigation, more victims came forward, all of which were part of the same cheerleading squad. Some of the girls were sent photos of themselves in bikinis with accompanying text claiming they were “drinking at the shore,” the outlet reported.
Police executed multiple search warrants to trace the origin of the messages, which reportedly led back to Spone’s IP address and cell phone. She was arrested last week and has since been released on the condition that she appear at a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 30.
George Ratel, the father of one of the girls Spone allegedly victimized, said his daughter and the other two victims used to be friends with Spone’s daughter. He believes the harassment started after he and his wife told their daughter to stop hanging out with Spone’s daughter, citing concerns with the other girl’s behavior.
“I don’t know what would push [Spone] to this point,” he told the Inquirer. “As a dad I was pretty upset about it. It’s an image put out there of my daughter that is simply not true.”
Deepfakes have grown unsettlingly good over the years as the technology powering them advances and access expands to popular apps, which has led to a surge in nefarious uses and related legal headaches. Several states have introduced legislation to ban politically motivated deepfakes and punish those who distribute pornographic deepfakes that use a person’s likeness without their consent.
A grown woman using deepfakes to bully teenagers in some twisted plot to get revenge for her daughter, though? Now that’s one I haven’t heard yet. People really keep finding ways to take that whole helicopter parenting shtick to a new level, good grief.