The Dangers of Deepfakes

Deep fakes, a new technology, can make bullying and online abuse worse for kids. Here’s what parents need to know.

In March of 2021, a Pennsylvania mother was arrested for cyber harassment. She is accused of creating “deepfake” photos and videos of three members of her daughter’s cheer squad engaging in drinking, smoking, and posing nude. You might have recently seen a fun and very convincing deepfake video of Tom Cruise on TikTok. 

When I saw the Tom Cruise deepfake on TikTok, I knew this technology had become accessible enough that it would now be used to cyberbully, defame, and threaten people online.

The story behind the cheer mom’s cyberbullying is all too familiar. The three victims had a falling out with her daughter, and she wanted them kicked off the team. What makes this story different is the use of deepfaking technology. ‘Deepfaking’ is the process of doctoring an existing image, but it is more sophisticated than Photoshop because it uses a form of artificial intelligence. The mom allegedly created the deepfakes by ‘mapping the victims’ social media photos onto other images to make them look real. She then deepfake images of the three victims to the team’s coaches. Currently, deepfakes look good enough to fool the average viewer, and they are only going to get better and more convincing.

What parents can do to protect their children from deepfakes

Like all cyberbullying situations, we cannot stop anyone from posting something hurtful online. As parents, what we can do is have a proactive position in our children’s social network. We can do this by:

First, have an open and ongoing conversation with your child about their online safety and behavior. I created a script for you to do this; it’s the Internet and Mobile Device Contract. Read each point to them, and then ask them to share their thoughts about it. Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you think this is a good idea,” or “what could happen if you let a stranger into your Instagram account?” We want kids who feel safe to go to their parents and ask for help. Kids don’t because they fear their parents will overreact and take their phones from them. To encourage your child to be upfront with you, you must include grace in this contract.  

Your conversation with your child might go something like this:

“I am giving you a mobile device and social media because I trust you. I also know you will make mistakes, or something bad out of your control will happen. Here’s the deal: If you come to me immediately and tell me what happened, I will help you. I will not punish you and take it all away.”

Second, monitor their social network. I highly recommend you know your child’s username and password to every social media account they have. Download the social media app on your phone, and log in as your child. I also recommend using a parental control and monitoring app like Bark. Bark helps keep kids safe online, and by extension, in real life. It monitors text messages, emails, YouTube, and over two dozen social media platforms for signs of potential issues like cyberbullying, online predators, adult content, depression, acts of violence, and suicidal ideation. Bark will alert busy parents when problems arise, saving you time and providing peace of mind. Use cybersafetycop in the promo code when you sign up to get 15% off your subscription.

There will always be a new app or technology that can compromise our children’s online safety. We strive to make it easy as possible for parents. I wrote a book just for you, Parenting in the Digital World. It will give you easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions for all your child’s online apps and devices.


*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Thank you! 

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.