A Pennsylvania woman has been charged with creating “deepfake” videos and photos of at least three teenage girls—including a video of one girl vaping—and sending them to the girls’ cheerleading coaches. The woman apparently considered the girls to be rivals of her daughter.
Raffaela Spone of Bucks County, PA, is accused of sending manipulated photos and videos to coaches at a private cheerleading training facility, possibly trying to get the girls removed from the cheer program, which her daughter was also part of. Spone denies the bizarre behavior. (There is no evidence that Spone’s daughter was involved in the harassment.)
In one video, 17-year-old Madi Hime appeared to be vaping—apparently a serious violation of the gym’s rules.
“I thought if I said it, no one would believe me because obviously, there’s proof, there’s a video,” Hime told Good Morning America. “But obviously that video was manipulated.”
While not exactly a vaping story, the event illustrates where vaping fits on the scale of acceptable behavior for teenagers in 2021. Other doctored photos and videos allegedly sent by Spone showed Hime and other girls naked, drinking and smoking.
The videos were created with so-called “deepfake” technology, according to Bucks County prosecutors. Deepfake software allows a still image (in this case, Hime’s face, taken from her own social media) to be inserted into an unrelated video. It appears to be real, unless it’s studied carefully by people who know what to look for.
“This technology is not only very prevalent, but easy to use,” Bucks County district attorney Matt Weintraub told the New York Times. “This is something your neighbor down the street can use, and that’s very scary.”
The cheerleading coaches had received the vaping video, and other videos and images, in anonymous text messages. After Hime’s mother was alerted, she discovered that her daughter had herself been receiving messages and doctored media for weeks, including fake nude pictures and suggestions that she kill herself.
Similar images and texts were sent to other girls at the cheerleading gym around the same time. Police and prosecutors obtained search warrants and found evidence that the messages were sent from Raffaela Spone’s cell phone. Spone has been charged with three counts of cyber-harassment of a child and three other counts of harassment, according to the Times.