Court ordered penalties for 15 teens who created naked AI images of classmates

A Spanish youth court has sentenced 15 minors to one year of probation after spreading AI-generated nude images of female classmates in two WhatsApp groups.

The minors were charged with 20 counts of creating child sex abuse images and 20 counts of offenses against their victims’ moral integrity. In addition to probation, the teens will also be required to attend classes on gender and equality, as well as on the “responsible use of information and communication technologies,” a press release from the Juvenile Court of Badajoz said.

Many of the victims were too ashamed to speak up when the inappropriate fake images began spreading last year. Prior to the sentencing, a mother of one of the victims told The Guardian that girls like her daughter “were completely terrified and had tremendous anxiety attacks because they were suffering this in silence.”

The court confirmed that the teens used artificial intelligence to create images where female classmates “appear naked” by swiping photos from their social media profiles and superimposing their faces on “other naked female bodies.”

Teens using AI to sexualize and harass classmates has become an alarming global trend. Police have probed disturbing cases in both high schools and middle schools in the US, and earlier this year, the European Union proposed expanding its definition of child sex abuse to more effectively “prosecute the production and dissemination of deepfakes and AI-generated material.” Last year, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order urging lawmakers to pass more protections.

In addition to mental health impacts, victims have reported losing trust in classmates who targeted them and wanting to switch schools to avoid further contact with harassers. Others stopped posting photos online and remained fearful that the harmful AI images will resurface.

Minors targeting classmates may not realize exactly how far images can potentially spread when generating fake child sex abuse materials (CSAM); they could even end up on the dark web. An investigation by the United Kingdom-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) last year reported that “20,254 AI-generated images were found to have been posted to one dark web CSAM forum in a one-month period,” with more than half determined most likely to be criminal.

IWF warned that it has identified a growing market for AI-generated CSAM and concluded that “most AI CSAM found is now realistic enough to be treated as ‘real’ CSAM.” One “shocked” mother of a female classmate victimized in Spain agreed. She told The Guardian that “if I didn’t know my daughter’s body, I would have thought that image was real.”

More drastic steps to stop deepfakes

While lawmakers struggle to apply existing protections against CSAM to AI-generated images or to update laws to explicitly prosecute the offense, other more drastic solutions to prevent the harmful spread of deepfakes have been proposed.

In an op-ed for The Guardian today, journalist Lucia Osborne-Crowley advocated for laws restricting sites used to both generate and surface deepfake pornography, including regulating this harmful content when it appears on social media sites and search engines. And IWF suggested that, like jurisdictions that restrict sharing bomb-making information, lawmakers could also restrict guides instructing bad actors on how to use AI to generate CSAM.

The Malvaluna Association, which represented families of victims in Spain and broadly advocates for better sex education, told El Diario that beyond more regulations, more education is needed to stop teens motivated to use AI to attack classmates. Because the teens were ordered to attend classes, the association agreed to the sentencing measures.

“Beyond this particular trial, these facts should make us reflect on the need to educate people about equality between men and women,” the Malvaluna Association said. The group urged that today’s kids should not be learning about sex through pornography that “generates more sexism and violence.”

Teens sentenced in Spain were between the ages of 13 and 15. According to the Guardian, Spanish law prevented sentencing of minors under 14, but the youth court “can force them to take part in rehabilitation courses.”

Tech companies could also make it easier to report and remove harmful deepfakes. Ars could not immediately reach Meta for comment on efforts to combat the proliferation of AI-generated CSAM on WhatsApp, the private messaging app that was used to share fake images in Spain.

An FAQ said that “WhatsApp has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation and abuse, and we ban users when we become aware they are sharing content that exploits or endangers children,” but it does not mention AI.

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