Claudia Conway, much to her displeasure, is trending on Twitter again.
This is not speculation about her feelings: The 15-year-old daughter of former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and “Never Trump” Republican attorney George Conway openly dislikes being in the news. “Currently trending on twitter for no apparent reason,” she writes in her TikTok bio. “The media is obsessed.”
And yet Claudia has created a spectacle that is impossible to look away from: Here is a teenager, openly undermining her mother who is already somewhat of a media villain, espousing leftist ideas her parents despise. On her TikTok are jokes about President Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy, reminders to vote blue in the upcoming election, and conservatives’ most feared slogan: ACAB.
Since this summer, when her anti-Trump, Black Lives Matter, and “Save Barron” TikTok videos went viral, Claudia has been an unexpected and unusually candid political voice. But hers is also a voice that is mired in misdirected hero worship among the Twitter #Resistance and complicated by the ethical complexities that come with adults dissecting the messages of a 15-year-old. As Claudia Conway’s TikToks have drawn national attention once again, after she exposed her mother’s coronavirus diagnosis and livestreamed an argument between the two of them, it’s worth asking whether adults should even be talking about Claudia Conway in the first place, and what the media owes her as both a private citizen and a teenage girl seemingly in crisis.
How Claudia Conway revealed her mother’s Covid-19 diagnosis and lit up Twitter
This week, as President Trump and many of the attendees of the White House’s reception for Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination have tested positive for the coronavirus, Claudia’s TikToks contained breaking news. On October 2, she posted a video alleging her mother was “coughing all over the house” after attending the event, and said that Claudia herself was struggling to breathe.
Shortly thereafter, she announced that her mother tested positive before the press did and was cited in major news outlets. She also alluded in a comment that Trump’s condition was worse than he claimed, and in the comments section of one video wrote that Kellyanne had lied to her about the results. “[She] said her test was negative when it literally wasn’t and I spent all day around her,” Claudia wrote. A few days later, she posted a video of herself in the bathtub captioned with “hey guys currently dying of covid!”
Then, on the evening of October 5, she posted another video, in which her mother’s voice can be heard. “Little clarification from my previous posts,” she wrote. “My mother claims that she did not lie to me. She had three tests done. First negative, second two positive. We were not in communication. I misinterpreted it.” In the background of the video, Kellyanne says, “Do it now,” to which Claudia says, “I am, I’m doing it right now,” referring to filming the video. “Say, ‘Correction, my mom had three tests,’” Kellyanne coaches her.
This most intimate look at the Conway family dynamics would ultimately be deleted, however. In a TikTok that viewers shared to Twitter before it was removed, Kellyanne can be heard saying, “You’ve caused so much disruption. You lied about your fucking mother about Covid? About Covid?”
Unsurprisingly, the rather salacious glimpse of a high-profile mother-daughter relationship set Twitter aflame, with left-leaning adults praising Claudia as an American hero and a better journalist than Bob Woodward. “HELP I can’t stop watching Claudia Conway argue with her mom,” wrote Twitter employee Sam Stryker.
Our hero worship of Claudia Conway is misguided and harmful
The resounding response to Claudia Conway’s public image is that she’s a spunky teenage maverick perfectly suited to destroy the Republican Party from within. But to lift her up as a hero or as some kind of entity fated to save us from the collapse of American politics is to ignore what she and every other Gen Z supposed savior are asking for. As Miles Klee writes in Mel magazine, “If you actually listen to [Greta] Thunberg and the Parkland group, you won’t necessarily hear how they plan to enact systemic change. Instead, they are telling the adults to get their act together, and wondering why it has fallen to the youth to voice any call to virtuous action.”
Claudia’s videos, ultimately, are a cry for help, from both the larger American electorate and the people in her life. Claudia has repeatedly spoken about her desire to emancipate from her parents and has alleged verbal and physical abuse from both her mother and father. “My dad doesn’t care about me,” she said in the same video. “He probably doesn’t even know my middle name.” In one particularly heartbreaking TikTok, Claudia asks for tips on how to stop dissociating because “nothing feels real” while tears stream down her face. And in a recent livestream, she told her followers in code that “I’m on live right now because I’m scared of my mom.”
HELP I can’t stop watching Claudia Conway argue with her mom pic.twitter.com/EINInHyE6j— Sam Stryker (@sbstryker) October 6, 2020
Teenagers denouncing their parents on the internet is not a new phenomenon; it’s just that most of the time, they do it in spaces separate from the adult internet, the public one where every tweet is grounds for debate. Many kids keep their Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok accounts private; others have secret finstas where they allow only a small portion of their regular followers access to more private or experimental thoughts.
That’s how one might expect the leftist daughter of two conservative political figures to express her angst and frustration about being born into such a family. We tend to assume that most internal familial controversy exists in the shadows, out of public view (or if they are high-profile enough, to be dissected decades later in overdramatized six-part Netflix documentaries).
Claudia Conway, however, has made all of this public. Though she often deletes past posts, many of her most inflammatory TikToks and tweets have remained out in the open. It’s as jarring of a phenomenon to witness as it was when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle surrendered their “royal highness” titles — for once, the disputes are laid bare.
The question is: What are adults on the internet who watch these videos supposed to do about it? Many have stressed that, because Claudia is just 15 and clearly dealing with unimaginable pressure and attention, she deserves privacy, and she does. Claudia herself, while acknowledging her appreciation of her more than 1 million followers, would likely agree. On October 6, she posted a statement, writing that “I am not the ‘whistleblower’ of our time. I am simply a 15-year-old girl with a following and bad luck when it comes to media coverage. Leave my family and me alone.” In a previous TikTok, she asks, “Why is the media so obsessed with everything a 15-year-old girl has to say?”
This is the uneasy paradox of Claudia Conway: How could the media not be interested in what she has to say? Claudia is just one of a new generation of leftist daughters of more conservative politicians, a cohort that includes 23-year-old Stephanie Regan, who tweeted “Do not vote for my dad” ahead of Robert Regan’s Michigan campaign for state legislature, and 25-year-old Chiara de Blasio, who was arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City, of which her father, Bill de Blasio, is mayor. Of the three, Claudia is by far the most outspoken online, and has made use of the platform closely associated with teenage rebellion. She responds often to comments, and much like within the #FreeBritney movement, viewers theorize about her well-being using context clues.
At times, the Conways seem like any other family where parents and children disagree on political views. In an interview with Business Insider (during which her parents were also in the room), Claudia explained that “My mom is my best friend but we do fight all the time over politics, and I’m always shut down by my entire family.” While her mother had asked her to take down some of the videos, she’d “respectfully declined” to do so. What teenager hasn’t argued with their family over politics, or had a parent monitor their social media accounts? And by all measures, Claudia’s social media presence is barely different from other girls’ her age — there are politics, sure, but there are also regular photos of a normal high schooler living her life.
Perhaps this is what we should glean from Claudia: Her cries for help, her worrisome and sometimes contradictory statements about her family, and her frustration at American politics are not interesting because they are abnormal — they’re interesting because they’re relatable. Young people should be allowed to be outspoken, rebellious, emotional, and even inconsistent on the internet without the social media machine elevating it to something more than it is.
While we, the audience, have no ability — nor do we have any right — to “save” or “free” Claudia from her family situation, but we do have a duty to take her and every other young person’s plea for a better country and a better system seriously. Of course teenagers are getting loud online. After all, the internet is the only place where they have a real say.