Three teenager cheerleaders from Pennsylvania have been the subject of online harassment by the use of edited videos and images by the mother of a rival teammate, as reported by The New York Times.
In July of 2020, a local cheerleading gym made the decision to reopen after it had been closed by the pandemic. One of the students was in the process of receiving a private lesson when the owners of the gym approached the student’s mother regarding anonymous text messages they had received. The text messages, containing manipulated media, appeared to show the student was a negative reflection of the gym. One of the videos sent to the owners depicted the student appearing to vape, which is against the policy of the facility.
Later that day, the student confessed to their parent they had been receiving harassing anonymous text messages for about a month. These text messages included photos depicting her naked and telling her to commit suicide. Similar text messages started to go to other members of the cheerleading team as well. The content of the doctored media ranged from the teenagers being naked, in revealing swimwear, drinking, or smoking.
In an interview with Good Morning America, one of the students, identified as Madi Hine, revealed how difficult it was to get people to believe it wasn’t her depicted in the videos. She says, “I thought if I said it, no one would believe me. Because obviously there is proof, it’s a video. But the video was obviously manipulated.”
Police had determined the text messages were coming from a texting application that lets you choose your own phone number. This information allowed officers the ability to request the IP addresses associated with the phone number created by the texting application. These IP addresses led back to the residence of Raffaela Marie Spone, the parent of another cheerleading teammate.
In December of 2020, a warrant was obtained to search Ms. Spone’s residence and multiple electronic devices were seized. After an analysis of the devices, evidence was located that linked the sending of the text messages to a cellphone used by Ms. Spone.
The production of these altered videos, also known as deepfakes, rely on artificial intelligence to create of video in which a face or body has been altered digitally to represent someone else. Deepfakes are often used maliciously to spreading false information. Celebrity deepfakes are becoming more common, with previous victims including Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Mark Zuckerberg.
This will likely not be the last time deepfakes are the topic of conversation. Deepfakes continue to be produced as more applications are becoming widely available to create them.
Henry Ajder, a deepfake researcher, expressed his deep concern for the practice: “It could be used to attack individuals, create political disinformation, make cybersecurity vulnerable, conduct fraud and manipulate stock markets … In the future, the crimes could outnumber digital forensic experts.” Ajder says this could affect the verification of crucial evidence in legal proceedings.
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