A woman from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has been arrested and charged after allegedly creating deepfakes of her daughter’s cheerleading rivals in compromising positions. Raddaela Spone, 50, supposedly created the images to force girls off of rival teams so that her daughter, a high-school cheerleader who competed against other high school teams, and her team could take home the prize.
Spone was charged with misdemeanor counts of cyber harassment of a child and related offenses last week, but has since been released on the proviso that she return to a hearing on March 30, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Following the creation of the images in which three young girls were drinking, vaping, and even naked, Spone is thought to have messaged the doctored images to the girls encouraging them to kill themselves.
The case is not just an alarming example of competitiveness taken to the extreme, but is also one of the first mainstream cases of deepfakes being used as a resource for blackmail, highlighting the danger of a tech that can make anyone look undeniably guilty.
The investigation began last summer when one of the victims’ parents contacted police over an anonymous number harassing their daughter. Their daughter is a member of the Victory Vipers, a competitive all-star cheerleading squad from Doylestown, and feared the images may result in her removal from the team.
"The suspect is alleged to have taken a real picture and edited it through some photoshopping app to make it look like this teenaged girl had no clothes on to appear nude. When in reality that picture was a screengrab from the teenager's social media in which she had a bathing suit on," said Bucks County DA Matt Weintraub, in a statement to 6abc.
However, they quickly learned she was not alone – two more girls came forward with similar stories.
One victim, Madi Hime (17), was on the Victory Vipers at the time and had previously argued with Spone’s daughter. She claims that following the argument, she received repeated text messages of hate, including oners telling her to kill herself, reports 6abc.
The police department traced the messages back to activity from an IP at Spone’s house, which prompted detectives to search her phone. Enough evidence was found to link Spone to the victims’ numbers, and she was arrested.
Spone and her attorney strongly deny any allegations, stating that the District Attorney has provided no evidence.
Whether the allegations are true or not, the landscape is changing with cyber-bullying. Deepfake technologies are freakily realistic and accessible to more than just top-level software enthusiasts, with many concerned about the possibility of tricking online users with doctored media, affecting not just reputations and livelihoods but political events like elections.
Technicians continue to fight back – with AI now being deployed to identify the difference between deepfakes and the real-deal, it remains to be seen whether deepfakes will remain a problem or be outsmarted by our computer detectives.