As TikTok has garnered popularity, a rising star has come to the forefront of the contentious app -- Claudia Conway. Just like her mother (Counselor to the President of the United States aka Kellyanne) once dominated the cable news cycle, Claudia has taken the app by storm, amassing more than 1.3 million followers. Although self-described in her bio as "just ur average teenage girl," Conway has been thrust into the spotlight, her videos regularly making national news. Most recently, she found herself at the center of a media frenzy after posting that her mother, Kellyanne, had Covid-19 before the Senior White House Staffer confirmed that she tested positive for the virus, and for alleging that President Trump's health amid his battle with coronavirus was worse than officials are leading on.
Yet, to paraphrase Chris Crocker's infamous 2007 viral video, we need to leave Claudia alone. Seriously!
Although Conway has garnered comparisons to the 1999 film Dick, where Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams play two 15-year-old girls who are partially responsible for President Richard Nixon's downfall, teenage-hood doesn't play by the rules of a big-budget Hollywood production.
Conway may be incredibly outspoken, but she is only 15 years old. She can't vote, she can't buy a lottery ticket or a pack of cigarettes, and she's too young legally drive. Placing her on such a rocky political pedestal, expecting her to perfectly navigate incredibly complicated situations under the scrutiny of the media, creating social media posts to enlighten us perfectly, seems like a terrifying amount of pressure for anyone, let alone a high schooler.
At 15, I could barely manage to keep my Chemistry grade above a C, perfect my dance team's halftime routines, and navigate the melodramatic perils of my first real relationship. I don't know how I would have fared under the harsh criticisms of a divided nation facing both a global pandemic and the instability of a particularly tense presidential election. This critique is not meant to insult the competence or badassery of teenage girls -- hell, I was one less than five years ago, and I know how passionate I was about the state of our nation and our world. It's clear Conway is smart, driven, and admirably fearless, and it seems as if she's doing her absolute best, speaking out for what she believes is right on a platform that resonates with her peers.
But people, come on, she's also 15. And yet here we are, some of us turning to Conway as almost a savior figure, as noted in New York Magazine. Her TikToks are arguably a form of vigilante justice, forcibly pulling back the curtain on an infamously evasive and opaque administration, but, as the magazine points out, she's still a teenager posting on her social media account. Not only should we refrain from forcing this impossible responsibility onto her shoulders, but more pragmatically, from a journalistic perspective, it can often be hard to verify the information she shares.
"Neither she nor the press is to blame for the fact that the White House has been an untrustworthy and reluctant source of information about the president's health," wrote Sarah Jones. "In the absence of credible leadership, we're left to rely on anyone with insight. But there's no way to verify the claims she makes on TikTok, either. She's said, for example, that Trump is doing much worse than he's admitted in public. This is plausible, but unless the president's health dramatically worsens we might never know if she's telling the truth."
But what does this all say about us? How have we gotten to such an absurdly dark place that some of us are turning to a young girl as the beacon of truth and hope as our democracy continues to decline? Why are we counting on her to take responsibility for the collective mistakes of the adults in the room, some of whom are supposed to protect her and care for her?
As Conway wrote in a statement on her TikTok last night, "I am not the 'whistleblower' of our time. I am simply a fifteen-year-old girl with a following and bad luck when it comes to media coverage. Leave me and my family alone."
So dear reader, I end this with a plea to please treat her as such. No matter your political alignment, Conway deserves kindness and compassion -- treat her the way you'd treat your 15-year-old self navigating the perils of teenage-hood and, ugh, 2020.