As Claudia Conway continues to break news on her TikTok, people are debating how to talk about her
A still from Claudia Conway's TikTok about Kellyanne Conway leaving her role in the White House. TikTok / datjerseygirl
Claudia Conway, the 15-year-old daughter of politicians Kellyanne and George Conway, has been the focus of media coverage in recent months.
She originally made headlines for her political views against Trump, which contrasted with her mother's role in Trump's White House, and later broke news that her mother had tested positive for COVID-19.
Given her age, the fact that she has spoken out about her mental health issues, and what she considers to be an abusive family situation, many have raised ethical concerns about how journalists should cover them, if at all.
Subramaniam Vincent, the director of the Journalism and Media Ethics Program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, told Insiders that journalists should be careful about what aspects of Claudia Conway's social media presence they want to cover.
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In the past few months, Claudia Conway has become a staple of the headlines and coverage in mainstream media. The 15-year-old social media celebrity, who is also the daughter of former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, has been hailed as the heroine of the #Resistance for criticizing the Trump administration despite her mother's ties to the president.
Claudia has around 1.3 million followers on TikTok. On her Twitter account, she is approaching 600,000 followers.
Those numbers make her a stand-alone influencer, but her rise to social media star is inextricably linked to a public portrayal of Conway as opposed to her conservative parents Kellyanne and George Conway. Kellyanne was previously an adviser to Trump's White House, and George is a co-founder of the Republican super-PAC The Lincoln Project against Trump.
Claudia is unfazed by her criticism of the Trump administration. In a September TikTok, she wrote a post: "I'm making my mother leave the White House to overthrow the administration and save America."
Both Conway parents resigned from their posts in August after Claudia announced that she was seeking emancipation. Kellyanne and George cited family reasons for leaving their posts.
Claudia hit the headlines in October for spreading the news on TikTok that her mother Kellyanne tested positive for COVID-19, but coverage of the teenager began long before this fall and began with a media fascination with her political content.
How Claudia went mainstream
As Insider's Connor Perrett reported, Conway posted several anti-Trump videos earlier this year, including one asking why "people hate Trump support" before the video's music changed and text read "SIKE close block me pls and education "revealed yourself."
Perrett reported that Claudia's TikTok profile gained increased visibility after New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz shared a link to her profile and some of her videos.
In July, Claudia tweeted that her parents "forced" her to delete her social media accounts, writing, "Apparently I don't have a platform! It's a fake! I love you all so much. Keep fighting."
As Sarah Manavis wrote in The New Statesman, Claudia's social media presence, as well as a similar incident in the UK where someone exposed the TikTok report of a Conservative minister’s daughter that she criticized the Conservative government, sparked discussion how media organizations should, if at all, report on the children of political figures.
This debate took place in public. Megyn Kelly tweeted on October 7th, "I don't think the media should be promoting the Claudia Conway posts. The family is obviously struggling with a tough dynamic - can't we be human?" Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" tweeted, "Fellow Journalists - Let's stay away from the children of the people we are reporting on. No need to ..."
However, others have found that it would be difficult for the media not to care what she had to say, given that her family is involved in contemporary politics and current events. It is clear that overall, many news organizations (including insiders) made the call that their content was up to date. On social media, some have hailed her as our nation's next great investigative journalist, as she tends to break the news about her family.
Claudia herself spoke out against media coverage, and Kellyanne also tweeted negatively about her daughter's coverage, saying, "My daughter Claudia is beautiful and brilliant. She has access to top doctors and health care and lives comfortably .. . We have COVID, but it's clear who is really sick. "
In the face of this ethical minefield, journalists and viewers have scratched their heads how to report on Claudia.
Some criticized the coverage of Claudia, claiming that she was only motivated by spectacles
Subramaniam Vincent, director of journalism and media ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, told Insider that a combination of different "news values" - characteristics of a story that help define its newsworthiness - mark media for Claudia Conways on social media Presence.
"An incredible and unethical cocktail of news values draws the media to cover: Conflict, Audiovisual, Divisibility, Drama, The Power Elite, Size and Fame," Vincent told Insider via email.
In the words of Rebecca Jennings from Vox, Claudia has "created a spectacle that you cannot look away from". A story of family conflict, her own mental health, a desire for emancipation, and the fact that she has been labeled a "whistleblower" on social media means that her public presence matches many of the news values Vincent deems enticing organizations designated for the media.
To make matters worse, Claudia exists in a "gray area" of media rules and norms. The question of whether or not the media should report on children of political figures, especially when their political beliefs differ from those of their parents, has not yet been fully answered in the New Statesman, according to Manavis. While children can now post political content on social media to audiences of thousands or even millions, the question still remains of how expanding and reporting that information can affect the best interests of the child.
In an interview with the Washingtonian, CNN White House correspondent Kate Bennett said she was "quite strict" about not treating the children of the political elite when they are minors.
"Children these days have so many opportunities on social media and so many opportunities to express themselves, [but] they don't have fully formed frontal cortexes. When we think about things like future jobs or relationships, or schools and academics, it's our responsibility as a adult journalists having the foresight that [these children] may not have as minors, "said Bennett.
Others argue that Claudia's social allegiance and political position legitimize reporting on her
Vincent told Insiders that Claudia's popular social media presence means news organizations are not the first level, or necessarily the primary means of publicity.
"We are in a digital cultural situation in which the topic has made contact with her 1M followers and she speaks to them directly. What she says there and who she is, etc., also made it a spectacle," said Vincent. "The media didn't create it.
"This makes it easier for journalists to undermine the ethics of consent, as journalists feel they are already public. So let's just go to it to break shareable and clickable stories. The ethics is being race for more and more navel broken. " -Stories of stories about a social media spectacle, "he said.
For journalists, as Intelligencer's Sarah Jones wrote, Claudia may still be an important figure as her TikTok and Twitter accounts "offer a glimpse into one of the most politically relevant households in the US."
Insider has covered Conway at length since June, from an interview with the teen (while her father George was in the room) to her announcement in July that she intended to delete her social media accounts, to her most recent testimony, that she had no "special insight" into the president's health following a comment she made indicating that President Donald Trump was sicker when he showed up after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
"[Claudia] is a major political figure herself and has a larger and more relevant audience than most mainstream journalists and broadcasters," said Penny CS Andrews, a graduate student in information, media and communications at the University of Sheffield Business Insider.
"At a time when people beyond the White House are looking for the truth, their voice from within would be important anyway. But it has also been consistent in its views, and its followers and viewers know that it is not only controversial to itself upset their parents, "said Andrews.
Find an ethical way to cover Claudia Conway
While Claudia Conway's posts are largely public, she controls her own narrative when posting on social media, Vincent told Insider, as opposed to when the media digest it. Because of this, Vincent says it's important to make a judgment about what surrounds Claudia.
According to Vincent, Conway's posting on Black Lives Matter is no more topical than any other teen, although it can be considered controversial or exciting because of their ancestry. In other cases, such as the case of her mother's positive COVID-19 result being published, journalists could treat Claudia as any other source that can confirm the information and instead let a confirmation determine the story.
"Incessant journalism about her has made her social media expression - which includes a combination of youthful rebellion, deep sensitivity, thoughtfulness and impulsiveness - a legitimate public event when it isn't. She is 15 years old," said he.
He advised journalists to consider whether stories related to Conway are related to the public interest, and whether they would still be a story if it weren't for them.
"I would say reporting about [Claudia] and people in their shoes has to be the exception, not the rule. It has to follow the ethic of consent, respect, privacy and dignity. I would not consider her a public figure by leveraging their expressions as stories for divisibility, "he told Insider.
Claudia herself refused to be reported in the media. In the statement she posted on TikTok Tuesday night, she said she was "appalled by the mainstream media's efforts to exploit a young girl". Her previous TikTok bio, according to Vox, was "Trending on Twitter right now for no apparent reason ... The media is obsessed."
Now it says, "Just your average young girl."
Claudia Conway posted TikTok videos about her family's COVID-19 tests. Then her mother interfered.
15-year-old Claudia Conway brought the news of her mother's COVID-19 diagnosis. So the teenager took over social media, from Trump on TikToks to trolling her parents on Twitter.
Claudia Conway posted a long statement on TikTok after her COVID-19 videos sparked controversy with her mother
Claudia Conway's supporters send their money to Venmo to pursue emancipation
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