As Claudia Conway continues to break news on her TikTok, people are debating how to talk about her
- Claudia Conway, the 15-year-old daughter of politicos Kellyanne and George Conway, has been the focus of media coverage in recent months.
- She originally made headlines for her anti-Trump political views, which contrast with her mother's role in the Trump White House, and later broke the news that her mother had tested positive for COVID-19.
- Given her age, the fact that she's spoken about her mental health concerns, and what she claims is an abusive family situation, many have raised ethical concerns about how, if at all, journalists should cover her.
- Subramaniam Vincent, the director of the Journalism and Media Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, told Insider that journalists should be careful in what aspects of Claudia Conway's social media presence they choose to cover.
Over the course of the past several months, Claudia Conway has become a regular fixture in headlines and mainstream media coverage. The 15-year-old social media celebrity, who is notably also the daughter of former White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, has been lauded as a #Resistance hero for critiquing the Trump administration despite her mother's ties to the president.Kellyanne and George Conway. Kellyanne was previously an advisor in the Trump White House, and George is co-founder of anti-Trump Republican Super PAC The Lincoln Project.
Both Conway parents resigned from their posts in August after Claudia posted that she was seeking emancipation. Kellyanne and George cited family reasons for their departure from their posts.Claudia made headlines in October for breaking the news on TikTok that her mother Kellyanne tested positive for COVID-19, but media coverage of the teen started long before this fall, beginning with a media fascination on her political content.
How Claudia went mainstream
As Insider's Connor Perrett reported, Conway posted several anti-Trump videos earlier this year, including one in which she asked why "people hate on trump supports" before the video's music changed and revealed text that read "SIKE nah block me pls and then educate yourself."Perrett reported that Claudia's TikTok profile received a boost in visibility after New York Times technology reporter Taylor Lorenz shared a link to her profile and some of her videos.
—Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) June 30, 2020In July, Claudia tweeted that her parents were "forcing" her to delete her social media accounts, writing, "Apparently, i don't have a platform! it's fake! 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 United Kingdom in which someone exposed a Conservative minister's daughter's TikTok account on which she was critical of the conservative government, brought about a discussion about how media organizations should cover the children of political figures, if at all.
That debate has played out in public. Megyn Kelly tweeted on October 7, "I don't think media should be circulating the Claudia Conway postings. The family is obviously struggling w/a tough dynamic - can't we be humane?" Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" tweeted, "Fellow journalists —Let's stay away from the children of the people we cover. No need for this ..."Others, however, have noted that it would be difficult for the media to not be interested in what she has to say given her family's role in contemporary politics and current events. Its clear that as a whole, many news organizations (including Insider) have made the call that her content is newsworthy. On social media, some have hailed her as the next big investigative journalist of our nation given her proclivity to break news about her family.
Claudia herself has spoken out against media coverage about her, and Kellyanne has tweeted negatively about the coverage of her daughter as well, saying, "My daughter, Claudia, is beautiful & brilliant. She has access to top doctors & health care & lives comfortably... We have COVID, but it's clear who's really sick."
—Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) October 6, 2020
Given this ethical minefield, journalists and onlookers have been left scratching their heads over how to cover Claudia.
Some have criticized coverage of Claudia, claiming it's motivated purely by spectacleSubramaniam Vincent, the 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 — draw media to cover Claudia Conway's social media presence.
In the words of Vox's Rebecca Jennings, Claudia has created a "spectacle that is impossible to look away from." A story involving familial conflict, her own mental health, a desire for emancipation, and the fact that she's been framed as a "whistleblower" on social media means that her public-facing presence fits many of the news values Vincent described as alluring to media organizations.Complicating matters further is the fact that Claudia exists in a "grey area" of media rules and norms. The question of whether or not the media should cover children of political figures, particularly when their political beliefs differ from those of their parents, Manavis writes in the New Statesman, is not fully answered yet. While children can now post political content on social media to an audience of thousands or even millions, there's still a question of how amplifying and reporting that information may impact the child's welfare.
In an interview with the Washingtonian, CNN White House correspondent Kate Bennett said that she's "pretty strict" about not covering the children of the political elite if they're minors."Kids today have so many outlets with social media, and so many ways to express themselves, [but] they don't have fully formed frontal cortexes. Thinking about things like future jobs, or future relationships, or schools and academics, it's our responsibility as adult journalists to have the forethought that [these kids] might not have as minors," Bennett said.
Others argue to Claudia's social following and political position legitimize coverage about herVincent told Insider that Claudia's popular social media presence means that news organizations aren't the first layer, or necessarily even the primary means, of exposure.
"We're in a digital culture situation where the subject herself has created exposure to her 1M followers and she talks to them directly, and what she says there and who she is, etc. have also made it a spectacle," Vincent said. "The media did not create that.
"This is making it easier for journalists to undermine the ethics of consent because journalists feel like 'it's already public', so let's just ride on it to break shareable and clickable stories. Ethics is being deprioritized in the race to break more and more navel-gazing stories of a social media spectacle," he said.For journalists, as Intelligencer's Sarah Jones wrote, Claudia is still potentially a newsworthy figure, given that her TikTok and Twitter accounts "offer an inside look into one of the most politically relevant households in the US."
Insider has extensively covered Conway since June, from an interview with the teen (during which her father George was in the room) to her July announcement that she planned to delete her social media accounts to her recent statement that said that she did not have any "special insight" into the president's health following a comment she made suggesting that President Donald Trump was more sick than he appeared following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
"[Claudia is] an important political figure in her own right and has a bigger and more relevant audience than most mainstream journalists and broadcasters," Penny CS Andrews, a doctoral researcher in information, media, and communication at the University of Sheffield, told Business Insider."At a time when people are searching for truth beyond the White House spin, her voice from the inside would be important anyway. But she has also been consistent in her views, and her followers and viewers know she is not just being controversial to upset her parents," Andrews said.
Finding an ethical way to cover Claudia ConwayWhile Claudia Conway's posts are for the most part public, when posting on social media she is controlling her own narrative, Vincent told Insider, as opposed to when the media digests it. For this reason, Vincent says that making judgment calls on what to cover surrounding Claudia is important.
Conway posting about Black Lives Matter, Vincent says, is no more newsworthy than any other teenager doing so, although it has potential be seen as controversial or exciting given her parentage. In other instances, such as in the case of posting about her mother's positive COVID-19 result, journalists could treat Claudia as any other source, corroborating the information and letting a confirmation drive the story instead."Incessant journalism about her has made her social media expression — which includes a combination of teenage rebellion, deep sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and impulsiveness — into a legitimate public event when it is not. She is 15," he said.
He recommended that journalists consider if stories tied to Conway are tied to public interest and if they would still be a story if not for who she was."I would say coverage of [Claudia] and people in her shoes must be an exception and not the rule. It must follow the ethics of consent, respect, privacy, and dignity. I would not treat her as a public figure, by leveraging her expression as stories for shareability," he told Insider.Claudia herself has disavowed media coverage. In the statement that she released on Tuesday night on TikTok, she said that she was "appalled at the mainstream media's efforts to exploit a teenage girl." Her former TikTok bio, per Vox, read "Currently trending on twitter for no apparent reason... The media is obsessed."
Now, it reads, "just ur average teenage girl."
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