IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Cheerleader's mom accused of using deepfakes to harass girl on team

Raffaela Spone is facing charges for allegedly harassing girls on her daughter's cheerleading team, including manipulating photos and video of at least one girl.
/ Source: TODAY

A Pennsylvania mother is accused of anonymously harassing a high school student on her daughter's cheerleading team by allegedly creating deepfakes that show the girl partaking in illicit behavior.

The term deepfake refers to images or videos that have been manipulated using software to make it look like a person is doing or saying something they're not. Cheerleader Madi Hime told NBC's Stephanie Gosk that her cheer coaches said they'd been sent a video that appeared to show her vaping. The teen and her mother, Jennifer Hime, both say it's fake. Madi also said she received threatening calls and texts from unknown numbers, some suggesting she should take her own life.

"I was just so much in shock with everything going on," Madi told TODAY in a segment aired Monday. "I couldn't really comprehend what was going on."

"I felt like if I said to someone ... no one would trust me. They have the video on proof, even though the video wasn't real," she added.

In addition to the vaping video, a police criminal complaint obtained by TODAY suggests that images from Himes' social media were also doctored to make it look like she was naked and drinking. Her mother involved law enforcement.

"I didn't know how to protect her from that. I didn't know who to protect her from," Jennifer Himes told TODAY. "There were a lot of sleepless nights."

Authorities believe that Raffaela Spone, the mother of one of Madi's teammates on the Victory Vipers, created the alleged deepfakes. Spone is charged with three counts each of cyber harassment of a child and harassment. She denied the charges to TODAY through her lawyer, Robert Birch.

"My client denies what they have charged her with, and we are going to aggressively fight this," he said.

The Victory Vipers also issued a statement addressing the scandal, saying the team "has always promoted a family environment, and we are sorry for all individuals involved."

Deepfakes aren't a new trend. In fact, earlier this year, videos that appeared to show actor Tom Cruise practicing magic tricks and tripping in a lobby garnered millions of views online — except they weren't actually of him. The creator had superimposed the "Mission Impossible" star's face on someone else's body.

In light of the Hime case, Matt Weintraub, the district attorney of Bucks County in Pennsylvania, is worried about more people using deepfakes as a form of harassment.

"We've always taken for granted that a photo is a photo, or a video is a video. We can't take that for granted any longer," he said.

Related video: