Hell hath no fury like a mother whose child has been scorned. Or, at least, that’s what appears to be the case in this story out of Pennsylvania.
In an episode right out of Squads Gone Wrong, one cheer mom is now facing hefty fines and possible jail time.
50-year-old Raffaela Spone has been charged with three counts of cyber harassment of a child against members of her daughter’s cheerleading team. Additionally, she also faces three counts of harassment against fellow cheer parents.
Spone allegedly created deepfake videos and photos of her high school daughter’s cheerleading rivals. She then sent them to teammates and coaches in an attempt to have the girls kicked off the team, the “Victory Vipers.” (Bringing a whole new meaning to the team moniker.)
The Bucks County District Attorney office says the photos showed the cheerleaders naked, drinking, and vaping.
Deepfakes are digitally altered images that appear authentic, disturbingly so. Photos and videos are manipulated by artificial intelligence software to take on an uncanny likeness to the victim.
According to the DA’s office, Spone used pictures of the girls that she found on their social media sites.
“This technology is not only very prevalent, but easy to use,” said Matt Weintraub, the Bucks County DA, “This is something your neighbor down the street can use, and that’s very scary.”
In addition, police accused Spone of sending a series of harassing text messages urging the victims to kill themselves.
The Hilltown Township Police Department wrote in an affidavit that they were first approached by concerned parents of one of the girls in July. She was receiving threatening messages via an anonymous phone number as well as copies of the incriminating doctored photos.
The gym and the 17-year-old girl’s mother also received disturbing text messages and videos. The events led to the mother moving her daughter to another gym, out of state.
A month later, two other families stepped forward with similar stories.
After months of investigating, the police arrested Spone on March 4. Detectives traced the phone numbers to a website that sells numbers to telemarketers. They tracked down the IP address which led them to Spone’s home in Chalfont, PA.
From there, police found evidence on Spone’s smartphone, linking her to the crimes.
Spone denies the allegations. Her lawyer, Robert Birch, tells the media that he is “going to aggressively defend this,” and that his client and her daughter “have received death threats.”
Court records reveal that Spone’s daughter was not aware of her mother’s behavior and is innocent of any wrongdoing.
According to an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the victims’ fathers, George Ratel, revealed what may have instigated the mama viper to strike.
Ratel told the newspaper that his daughter and the other two victims were initially friends with Spone’s daughter. He believes that the harassment was triggered when he and his wife forbade their daughter to hang out with Spone’s, citing concerns over the girl’s behavior.
As for the gym’s response, they have a very strict anti-bullying policy in place. Coaches Mark McTague and Kelly Cramer told ABC News:
“Victory Vipers has always promoted a family environment and we are sorry for all individuals involved. 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.”
All of the girls involved are no longer part of the gym.
Intelligence company Sensity found that between July 2019 and July 2020, AI bots created nude deepfakes of 104,852 women and children and shared them via the messaging app, Telegram. The images were viewed by thousands of people.
If you think your children are safe, they’re not.
Sensity’s chief executive officer Giorgio Patrini warns,
“Having a social media account with public photos is enough for anyone to become a target.”
This definitely seems to be true in the “Victory Vipers” case. So the next time you see something on social media, you may want to think twice. Seeing isn’t always believing.
As for what will happen to Spone? A preliminary hearing will take place on March 30.