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Cheerleaders Were Sent Disturbing Deepfakes. Cops Say It Was a Squad Mom

Pennsylvania mom faces harassment charges
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2021 2:41 AM CDT
Updated Mar 20, 2021 7:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Cheerleaders from a team in Bucks County, Pa., started coming forward last year with stories of cyberbullying—and police say a cheer squad mom turned out to be behind it. Raffaela Spone, 50, is accused of harassing members of Doylestown's Victory Vipers, as well as some staffers, NBC News reports. Spone allegedly created deepfakes, digitally manipulated photos and videos meant to look real, showing her daughter's teammates drinking, vaping, and posing nude. Police say the images were sent to the girls anonymously with messages urging them to kill themselves, and were also sent to coaches in an attempt to get the girls kicked off the squad. There's no evidence her high-school-aged daughter knew about Spone's alleged activities, ABC News reports.

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Authorities say the images weren't very sophisticated, but they were still concerned with her ability to create them: "It would seem to me this technology is available to anyone," the Bucks County DA says. "I don't know mechanically how she was able to do it, but I can tell you that she's an ordinary citizen—I don't know that she has any more technological proficiency than your neighbor down the street." Police traced the numbers used to send the images to an app called Pinger, and from there acquired the IP address used to send the messages. Spone is facing charges of harassment. Authorities say the girls targeted were "not random" and that more would be revealed at trial. One squad dad tells the Philadelphia Inquirer he believes the incidents started after he and his wife forbade their daughter to hang out with Spone's daughter over concerns about her behavior. (Read more cyberbullying stories.)

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