Digital activism made a surprise debut in the work of the Office of the Children's Commissioner this week.

On Monday Commissioner Dr Russell Wills released the 2015 Child Poverty Monitor. It makes grim reading.

Since 1985 the percentage of children living in income poverty has doubled from 15 per cent to 29 per cent. At least 14 per cent of children live without essentials like fresh fruit and vegetables, a warm home and decent clothing. An estimated 9 per cent of children subsist in severe poverty.

These figures are already a year out of date. Given what frontline groups like ours see every day right across Auckland, I suspect the stats will now be a lot worse.

Advertisement

The organisations involved in producing the Child Poverty Monitor are to be commended for establishing this annual report card. Without an accepted poverty line in New Zealand, the distillation and analysis of data from different sources in an academically rigorous way is a much-needed contribution, regardless of who is in government at the time.

However, I would have expected that having produced such a damning report the Commissioner would have come out swinging. Perhaps he could have asked the government directly why so little has been done in the three years since the production of his own expert advisory group report Solutions to Child Poverty in 2012.

Perhaps he could have issued an appeal for urgent action on the most pressing causes of child poverty, like incomes that are too low to live on and rapidly rising levels of homelessness.

Instead Dr Wills has issued a clarion call for a hashtag campaign #itsnotchoice.

Rather than laying the responsibility for deepening poverty where it belongs and making clear demands of those who hold power, all of us are being encouraged to 'Click here to download and take a selfie.'

What a copout. Clicktivism is already a dangerous channel for activist energy, aimed at making people feel good about themselves without building the real life actions and organisations necessary to create pressure for change.

I'm sure that John Key, Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett would be happy to click #itsnotchoice. On the campaign trail they are quick to tell us they don't like child poverty any more than the rest of us do. It's their lack of an effective response to it that's the problem.

There is no call for action or demand for accountability aligned to the hashtag. It's simply a statement that the person in the selfie cares. So what?

This is the worst kind of clicktivism. Online petitions and hashtag campaigns are never particularly effective, but this campaign is an even feebler effort than most.
I can't help but wonder if some flash young comms advisor has given Dr Wills a piece of spectacularly dud advice.

Unless online slogans, petitions and campaigns are tied to a clear demand or set of demands, and/or to an action, it is hard to see what earthly purpose is served. And even then, the enervating effect of online activism is becoming more apparent in the activist world all the time. Pressing 'like', signing an online petition or taking a selfie are easy and politically debilitating substitutes for the hard graft of organising and taking action in the real world.

The child poverty crisis in Aotearoa is serious. It is not nice and it is not a game. It is intrinsically about adult poverty too. No nice words or fancy messaging can alter the fact that until power is confronted and very different jobs, welfare and housing policies set in place, nothing will change.

In a democracy governments should be able to withstand and welcome critical advocacy from independent crown entities, rather than expecting them to voluntarily tone themselves down.

Yes, we do need statistical reports. But until those in power are made accountable through clear demands backed by popular support nothing will change.

Depoliticised hashtag campaigns are no substitute for action.

Sue Bradford works with Auckland Action Against Poverty.
Debate on this article is now closed.