Female students at a New Jersey high school have been left feeling “humiliated and powerless” after fake pornographic images of them created by an Artificial Intelligence program were circulated by their classmates. The shocking violation of privacy, which is now being investigated by school leadership and local police, has highlighted the potential dangers of AI technology and renewed calls for government regulation before similar incidents become commonplace.
According to administrators from New Jersey’s Westfield High School, the existence of the disturbing images was first brought to light in mid-October, when female sophomore students observed male classmates “acting weird” and “whispering” among themselves whenever a girl was nearby. Several days later, one boy came forward, revealing that at least one student had used an online AI tool to create pornographic images, known as deepfakes, from the girls’ public social media posts. The nude photos were then shared with other students in several group chats.
The girls immediately notified school administrators and an investigation was launched to identify the source of the deepfakes. An October 20 email sent to parents by Principal Mary Asfendis stated:
I am writing to make you aware of a situation that resulted in widespread misinformation and resulted in significant worry and concern amongst the student body of Westfield High School. Earlier today, students brought to our attention that some of our students had used Artificial Intelligence to create pornographic images from original photos. There was a great deal of concern about who had images created of them and if they were shared.
At this time, we believe that any created images have been deleted and are not being circulated. This is a very serious incident. We are continuing to investigate and will inform individuals and families of students involved once the investigation is complete. This will happen before the weekend. We made counseling available for all affected students and encouraged them to return to class when they felt able to do so. Additionally, our School Resource Officer and the Westfield PD have been made aware of our investigation. If a parent/guardian thinks their child is a victim of a criminal act in relation to this incident, please report the matter to Westfield Police.
I wanted to make you aware of the situation, as, in addition to harming the students involved and disrupting the school day, it is critically important to talk with your children about their use of technology and what they are posting, saving, and sharing on social media. New technologies have made it possible to falsify images and students need to know the impact and damage those actions can cause to others.
We will continue to educate your children on the importance of responsible use of technology and hope you reinforce these messages at home.
Parent statements to the Wall Street Journal confirm that none of the victims ever saw the images before they were deleted, nor did police officers investigating the incident.
As the investigation continues, some parents in the community have accused the school of taking insufficient action to protect female students. One mother told a local news outlet that the male student allegedly responsible for the images was briefly suspended but allowed to return after less than a week. She is joined by other furious parents in calling on local and federal leadership to find a way to prevent similar violations from taking place in the future.
While debate over how to address this issue and other misuses of expanding AI capabilities has continued for quite some time, most authorities agree that steps need to be taken. In September, Attorneys General from all 50 states sent a letter to Congress warning lawmakers about the risk of proliferating AI-generated child pornography, against which there is little legal protection. “We are engaged in a race against time to protect the children of our country from the dangers of AI,” the prosecutors wrote. “Indeed, the proverbial walls of the city have already been breached. Now is the time to act.”
Other lawmakers, including Westfield New Jersey Mayor Shelley Brindle and State Senator Jon Bramnick, have weighed in on the issue and encouraged the creation of legal protections. Similar proposals have been made at the state and federal levels across the country and around the world.