As the list of Republicans and White House staffers diagnosed with COVID-19 grew over the last few weeks, all eyes seemed to be on an unlikely figure: a 16-year-old girl named Claudia Conway.
Claudia is the daughter of Kellyanne Conway, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump and a staple at the White House. Kellyanne was among those who caught the virus, which we heard first not from breaking news sources but on Claudia’s TikTok, where she has 1.5 million followers. People also took to her liberal politics, and a star was born.
As people turned to the teen’s videos in the hope of insider information, a debate emerged over how exactly adults should think of a minor who's been thrust into the public eye. But it wasn’t politically minded adults who made Claudia TikTok-famous. She's made it big on the platform because of the Gen Z teens and young adults who make up much of the app’s user base, and they love her politics just as much as her frequent lip syncs and dance videos.
Kazamira Baggott first found Claudia after one of her TikToks was posted on Twitter. Baggott, a 21-year-old in Arizona, knew who Kellyanne Conway was, which is what first intrigued her, but kept watching because she grew to like Claudia as a person.
“She's really funny and relatable,” said Baggott. “I'm a few years older than her but can still relate.”
In particular, Baggott said she and Claudia have similar political views. But she’s also been drawn in because she’s concerned for Claudia, who has posted before about seeking emancipation from her parents.
“I don't really put her up on a pedestal, because she's just a 16-year-old girl dealing with a lot of home issues, which I feel like everyone's experienced at one time or another,” she said.
For Jacob Sellers, an 18-year-old in California, it’s a similar story to his own.
“My whole childhood, I was manipulated — and seeing it in Claudia’s videos really drew me into her in the first place,” he said.
He was also first drawn to Claudia because of who her mother is, but he stuck around because of how she uses her voice.
“Claudia’s content is awesome because it’s hers. She uses her platform to express herself and share her views,” he said.
Her influence has also expanded beyond the United States. Elena Avakova, a 16-year-old in Moscow, said she loves Claudia.
“Even though I'm not from the USA and I don't know a lot about politics there, I can say that Claudia is really brave,” Elena said. “She stands for what's right and isn't scared to go against her mom. Some people may find this inappropriate for a teenager, but I think she's a good role model.”
Elena said she would personally never be able to go against her parents’ beliefs the way Claudia does, so it’s inspirational to see her stand up for herself.
Claudia’s rebellion, both against her mom’s politics and to hints that her parents would rather she not be so bold on social media, has had adults lauding her as a sort of leftist hero. But for the teens who love her, their view is more nuanced.
“Claudia is not a hero or a rebel. She is a kid who needs help,” said Sellers.
Everyone BuzzFeed News talked to felt fiercely protective of Claudia, especially amid the flurry of media scrutiny that she herself has complained about in her videos.
“Just because she's a famous person’s daughter doesn't mean she should be open to such public criticism, especially when it's taken out of context or makes her look like a horrible child for not agreeing with her mom,” said Baggott.
Bailey Diamond, a 17-year-old in Las Vegas, said the media can be a hard place for children, let alone Kellyanne Conway's child.
“Many articles that I’ve seen about her come off in a bashing manner. At the end of the day, she is a young 16-year-old with a voice and opinion with a large platform to show it off,” she said. “If she was a child of the same age and the same views but not a child of the Conway family, would the media still report her in the same light?”
She added that, at the end of the day, it’s not Claudia's closeness to the White House that makes her so enjoyable but the fact that she appears to have remained true to herself despite it.
“I like that Claudia is using her platform to inform and educate people on her political views, yet she still shows that at the end of the day she’s just a teenager who can relate to many other teenagers,” Bailey said.
“When she speaks up for herself, no matter how many times she’s been put down, she proves to many that she is a strong person. She’s exactly the type of person you would want to be friends with as she knows what she wants and she goes for it.”