Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s 15-year-old daughter has captivated the internet for trolling her mother – experts weigh in on the ethics of giving teenagers mass media attention
Last week, Donald Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for coronavirus, just one month before the upcoming presidential election. Obviously the world went into overdrive, with many delving into conspiracy theories (does he actually have it, or is this an orchestrated ‘October Surprise’?) or wishing the president dead.
One person who appears to have more information than the rest of us is 15-year-old Claudia Conway – the daughter of Trump’s counsellor, Kellyanne Conway. The teenager, who has 1.3 million followers on TikTok, has found herself the subject of Fox News broadcasts, and has been trending regularly on Twitter after vocally disagreeing with her mother’s politics and disseminating rumours about Trump’s health.
Claudia previously tweeted that she’s seeking emancipation from her parents as a result of “years of childhood abuse and trauma”, has voiced support for Black Lives Matter on her platforms, and also frequently urges young people to vote to get Trump out. In August, Kellyanne resigned from her role as counsellor to the president, saying she wanted to spend more time with her four children now they’re being forced to home-school as a result of the pandemic.
In recent weeks, Claudia has been sharing updates about the wave of coronavirus currently sweeping the White House. Ahead of Kellyanne announcing that she’d tested positive for COVID-19, Claudia shared a TikTok video raising suspicions about her mum’s symptoms. She later confirmed on the app that Kellyanne had the virus.
Since then, Claudia has hit the headlines for a number of reasons, including: the announcement that she also has coronavirus; a now-deleted video which appeared to show her mum telling her what to say to her followers; and TikTok comments suggesting the president isn’t “doing better” as the White House would have the public believe.
Last night (October 6), Claudia shared a statement via her TikTok, urging the mainstream media to stop “using my situation and my views for their own personal benefit”. She said: “I am a child and I am to be treated as one. This is severely impacting my mental health.”
“It has come to my attention that my recent TikToks and comments have sparked intense controversy and uproar,” Claudia continued. “This was not my intent. I am appalled at the mainstream media’s efforts to exploit a teenage girl. I am not the ‘whistleblower’ of our time. I am simply a 15-year-old with a following and bad luck when it comes to media coverage. Leave my family and me alone.”
She goes on to explain that her comments about Trump’s health were merely speculation, and assured her followers that she has “absolutely no ‘special’ insight into the president’s health status”. Claudia also cleared up confusion about when her mother tested positive for coronavirus, and declared that Kellyanne never lied to her about her condition.
Questions have since been raised about the ethics of the media reporting so frequently on a teenage girl, who – aside from her recent social media presence – has inadvertently been thrust into the spotlight because of her mother’s political position.
“Children have a right to privacy which should not be affected by the identity of their parents,” Nathan Sparkes, the policy director of free press campaign group Hacked Off, tells Dazed. He explains that most publishers are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), “a complaints-handler controlled by the industry itself”, and that while there are standards in place when it comes to reporting on children, “IPSO has a poor record of enforcement”.
“Children have a right to privacy which should not be affected by the identity of their parents” – Nathan Sparkes, Hacked Off
Sparkes continues: “(The rules) prohibit invasions of a child’s privacy on the sole basis of the identity of the parent, but it does not rule out editors citing the identity of a parent as a factor in a decision to invade a child’s privacy. This is wrong.”
Speaking to Dazed, Vikki Julian, the head of communications at IPSO, refers me to the Editors’ Code, “the set of rules that print and online publishers” regulated by the organisation must follow. These rules offer “protections relating to an individual’s privacy and more stringent protections for children’s privacy”.
Julian adds: “It is clear that children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents, including through social media.” According to Julian, IPSO is yet to “consider any complaints about politicians’ children disagreeing with their views on social media”, so there are no specific rulings related to this exact situation.
How are the rules impacted when it comes to public social media accounts? “Outlets should consider the extent to which the child has intentionally consented to putting the information into the public domain,” says Sparkes. “This can sometimes be determined by the privacy settings used on social media accounts.”
“In the case of Claudia Conway,” he continues, “some of her TikTok videos are set to public, and some are set to private. This provides outlets with an indication of what material she intends to consent to be published openly, and what she wants to be kept private.”
Although Claudia consents to sharing her videos publicly on her own social media accounts, having mass outlets report on everything you say could have a detrimental impact – particularly for teenage girls, who are excessively scrutinised by the media.