Mother 'used deepfake to frame cheerleading rivals'

A mother allegedly used explicit deepfake photos and videos to try to get her teenage daughter's cheerleading rivals kicked off the team.


Raffaela Spone from Pennsylvania, US, reportedly sent the content - which showed members of the Victory Vipers team "naked, drinking and smoking" - to the coach.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to doctor images and videos.

Mrs Spone has been charged with multiple counts of harassment.

She is also accused of sending abusive messages to the team, their parents and owners of the cheerleading gym, using fake phone numbers.

The Hilltown Township Police Department in Bucks Country said it believed her daughter was unaware of the alleged incidents.

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One victim's parents contacted police in July, saying their daughter had received harassing text messages from an anonymous number.

Two more families later came forward after receiving similar messages.

Mrs Spone is believed to have used the girls' social media accounts to generate the deepfake images.

Authorities traced the phone number that had sent the harassing text messages, which led them to a website that sells numbers to telemarketers.

Police then followed the data to an IP address that was tracked to Mrs Spone's home.

"Victory Vipers has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved. We have very well-established policies, and a very strict anti-bullying policy in our program," said coach Mark McTague.

"When this incident came to our attention last year, we immediately initiated our own internal investigation and took the appropriate action at the time. This incident happened outside of our gym."

media captionHow I became a deepfake

Detecting deepfakes

It could soon become easier to detect whether an image has been created using deepfake technology.

Scientists at the University at Buffalo have developed a tool that can identify whether an image has been doctored by analysing light reflections in a person's eyes.

“The two eyes should have very similar reflective patterns because they’re seeing the same thing," said Lead author Siwei Lyu.

"It’s something that we typically don’t typically notice when we look at a face."

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have accused a small-town mother of creating digitally manipulated videos to ruin the reputations of her daughter's cheerleading rivals.

Raffaela Spone, 50, was arrested last week for allegedly creating doctored images and film clips, widely described as "deepfakes" in US reports, that showed members of the Victory Vipers cheerleading squad in compromising situations. 

Officials in Bucks County, a rural and suburban area on the outskirts of Pennsylvania, charged Mrs Spone with sending threatening anonymous text messages and the fake images to coaches and cheerleaders last year.

District attorney Matthew Weintraub told the Washington Post that one of the videos involved digitally removing a cheerleader's bikini and replacing it with skin-coloured bars, which he described as an attempt to "slut-shame".