Witness Spotlight: Ava Smithing

Tune in to the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee Legislative Hearing on Proposals to Protect People Online

Meet Ava Smithing.  

A Nashville, Tennessee-native, she grew up playing volleyball, including at the Stevens Institute of Technology where she earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration in 2023. 

She’s now among those leading the charge to ensure that Americans—especially young people—can use social media platforms without being targeted or manipulated.  

In her role as Director of Advocacy at the Young People’s Alliance, Ava is stepping up to confront a challenge that she and so many other young people face today: social media companies exploiting Americans’ mental health. 

Big Tech platforms collected and then weaponized Ava’s data—like her age, location, and gender—against her. According to Ava, “they used my data to infer what other types of ads and content I might ‘like,’ leading me down a pipeline from bikini ads, to exercise videos, to dieting tips, and finally to eating disorder content.” 

By monitoring her post engagements and what she spent time viewing, social media companies could track Ava’s vulnerabilities. These platforms were able to drive her into a downward spiral that resulted in a threat to her well-being. In her case, watching one video for just a little too long encouraged the algorithm to funnel harmful content into Ava’s feed. 

Ava says, “How was I—a 14-year-old child—supposed to understand that social media platforms would use my age, location, and gender to target me with advertisements designed to instill insecurity in me?” 

Today, Ava is flipping the script. As an advocate, she is leading to promote kids’ safety online through a national data privacy standard so people can control their data and be protected from manipulative algorithms. 

Last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced a comprehensive data privacy bill, the American Privacy Rights Act.  

Support for establishing privacy rights has more momentum than ever, in no small part because people like Ava are speaking up about the consequences of companies’ unchecked power. 

Among its protections, the American Privacy Rights Act will establish the ability for users opt-out of targeted advertising. Ava said that if such an option existed when she first joined social media, she may never have been put in harm’s way. 

The bill also requires companies to review their algorithms to ensure they do not endanger children through malicious content suggestions. This will stop the downward spiral that exploits so many children online. 

The Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a legislative hearing at 10:00 AM today to consider proposals to protect kids online and advance strong comprehensive data privacy protections. Ava Smithing will highlight why these proposals are critical for Americans who want to use the internet without being targeted and manipulated by the sites they visit. Be sure to tune in!