Anyone who’s over 25 might not be aware that Gen Z observed an important holiday over the weekend: Its apparent savior and chosen one, Claudia Conway, turned 16.
It’s going to be hard for Conway to top all she accomplished at 15, a year that saw her rise to fame after using her TikTok to criticize the Trump administration, specifically her mother, former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. Conway’s posts on the short-form video app, the most recent spate of which purported to give viewers inside info on the White House coronavirus outbreak, have made national news multiple times in the past few months. Over time, that coverage has evolved from celebratory to more circumspect, to the point where the most recent round of missives included more critics cautioning liberals not to turn Conway into a #resistance hero than actual examples of liberals attempting to do so.
The journalists warning of the dangers of deifying Conway have most often aimed that message at adults. They treat it as a given that Conway is, if not Gen Z’s resistance leader, then at least its emissary. But what do actual members of Gen Z think? Have they all pledged their undying allegiance to her?
It’s true that Conway has 1.5 million followers on TikTok, an app that’s very popular with young people. It’s also true also that every time she posts a video (or a photo on Instagram or a tweet), she is deluged with praise in the comments (“You are awesome!!!! Please keep speaking the truth!!!!”; “Girl you are gonna be in the history books”; “WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH”). On posts that don’t have to do with politics, comments tend to be full of more love of the all-caps variety: “GODDESSS,” “UR EYEMAKEUP AND NAILS LOOK MAD GOOOOOOOD,” “OK QUEEN,” and so on. Conway also gets her fair share of trolling, pro-Trump and otherwise. Still, it seems like a leap to assume that Conway is an icon to her generation. So we DM’d some of the people in her comment sections to find out.
Alwin, an 18-year-old from Wisconsin with 80,000 TikTok followers of his own, seemed to consider Conway more of a peer than a hero. He originally followed her after she dueted one of his videos and followed him, he said. They’re not friends, but they’ve messaged a bit on Snapchat. He said that Claudia uses TikTok the way most teenagers do: “She’s chill with everyone,” he said. He even sees her in the comments sometimes: “She’ll be like ‘laughing emoji’ or like ‘lmao’ or something,” just like anyone would.
Aiden, a 16-year-old from D.C. who has 160,000 followers on TikTok, said that Claudia actually followed him first: Before her account blew up, someone tagged him on one of her videos and he followed back. They’ve also DM’d a bit, NBD.
In addition to all that, Alwin said he agrees with the politics Claudia professes—Black Lives Matter, ACAB, etc.—and generally finds her well-informed. He said he thinks her motivations for speaking out on social media are genuine: “Personally, I don’t think she’s doing it for attention. I think she’s made it clear that she’s just living her life and everything else is just happening. I feel like if anything she’s doing it to spread awareness because I feel like there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that’s crazy.”
Aiden said he thought Claudia’s activism probably resonated with a lot of teenagers who disagree with their parents: “I think that Claudia represents what a lot of teens want to do but don’t necessarily feel like they’re able to do in the sense of standing up to their conservative parents.” He added, “That’s what I would guess. I live in D.C., so I know like two Republicans.”
Joseph, a 19-year-old from Annapolis, Maryland, said he was impressed by Conway’s ability to disagree with her parents so publicly. “That takes a lot of courage, and I really appreciate someone who has courage,” he said.
Kamri, a 19-year-old from Atlanta, also said she was on the same page as Conway politically: “I personally believe she’s brave for using her platform to broadcast and speak on the things she does,” she said. But like the others, Kamri wasn’t following Conway blindly: She knows to take anything she says with a grain of salt. “I trust her to a certain extent, but as you can see from her Tiktoks, some days she’ll say one thing and the next it’s her going against that,” she told me (in the days before Conway’s birthday). “You can’t put your entire, 100 percent trust into a 15-year-old. She’s a teenager and she’s still growing and doing things like any normal teenager would, including myself.”
Joseph said that while he agrees with Conway on some issues, such as the need to end systemic racism, he actually follows her despite his more conservative leanings. It took a little drawing out to figure out why. “I just love how authentic she is,” he said. “She’s not afraid to post what she has in her mind.” He finds her funny, too: “She has jokes, honestly.”
He also said it may not exactly hurt that Conway is pretty. This may have been what inspired him to join the chorus of adoration in her Instagram comments at least once. “She posted just an image of her and she just looked beautiful so I just commented—you know, she’s very beautiful, she’s very positive.”
But he insisted her message was more important: “I feel like it more comes down to the person she is and the platform she has and how she’s using it and how she’s speaking her mind, and that’s definitely the most important thing.” Totally.