Plenty of moms are still wrapping their heads around the concept of TikTok, but one Pennsylvania mother is accused of using deepfakes to harass her daughter’s cheerleading rivals. In a bid to get three girls kicked off the Victory Vipers traveling cheer squad, 50-year-old Raffaela Spone sent photos and videos to their coaches that appeared to show the teens smoking, drinking, and naked, investigators said. She also sent anonymous messages with the images to the girls and suggested they kill themselves, prosecutors added.
Detectives determined the deepfakes were made by mapping the cheerleaders’ social media photos onto other images. "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," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub told WPVI-TV.
One victim and her coaches were sent photos that made it look like she was naked, drinking and smoking a vape.
County law enforcement busted Spone by tracing the phone numbers she used to a website that sells them to telemarketers and linking that data to an IP address within her home. When they searched her phone, detectives found evidence tying Spone to the numbers used to harass her targets, according to an affidavit.
The Bucks County District Attorney's Office charged the vengeful mother with three misdemeanor counts of cyber harassment of a child and related offenses last week. There’s no indication that Spone’s daughter had any idea of what her mother was up to. She and the three victims were initially friends. But the father of one of the girls, George Ratel, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he thinks the harassment was triggered when he and his wife told their child to stop hanging out with Spone’s daughter, who they worried was a bad influence.
Police were contacted by one victim’s parents last July, when the girl began getting harassing texts from an unknown number. She and the Vipers coaches were sent photos that made it look like she was naked, drinking and smoking a vape. During their investigation, two more families came forward to say their children had been getting similar messages. Those girls received photos of themselves in bikinis with captions that read “drinking at the shore.”
Through her attorney, Spone claimed she was innocent: "She has absolutely denied what they're charging her with and because of the fact that this has hit the press, she has received death threats,” Robert Birch told WPVI-TV. “Her life has been turned upside down.”
The Victory Vipers, meanwhile, expressed sympathy for the teens targeted and noted the squad has a “very strict anti-bullying policy.”