Madi Hime is taking a deep drag on a blue vape in the video, her eyes shut, her face flushed with pleasure. The 16-year-old exhales with her head thrown back, collapsing into laughter that causes smoke to billow out of her mouth. The clip is grainy and shaky – as if shot in low light by someone who had zoomed in on Madi’s face – but it was damning. Madi was a cheerleader with the Victory Vipers, a highly competitive “all-star” squad based in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Vipers had a strict code of conduct; being caught partying and vaping could have got her thrown out of the team. And in July 2020, an anonymous person sent the incriminating video directly to Madi’s coaches.

Eight months later, that footage was the subject of a police news conference. “The police reviewed the video and other photographic images and found them to be what we now know to be called deepfakes,” district attorney Matt Weintraub told the assembled journalists at the Bucks County courthouse on 15 March 2021. Someone was deploying cutting-edge technology to tarnish a teenage cheerleader’s reputation.

But a little over a year later, when Spone finally appeared in court to face the charges against her, she was told the cyberharassment element of the case had been dropped. The police were no longer alleging that she had digitally manipulated anything. Someone had been crying deepfake. A story that generated thousands of headlines around the world was based on teenage lies, after all. When the truth finally came out, it was barely reported – but the videos and images were real.