A recent High Court decision found an online social justice warrior had breached the Harmful Digital and Communications Act by repeatedly posting personal attacks against a woman running a small business just outside of Auckland.

The social justice warrior had begun commenting on and reposting the business owner’s Instagram content during the initial 2020 lockdown, when it appeared that the business was staying open against regulations. However, the social justice warrior’s post grew increasingly personal, disparaging the small business owner’s character and citing concerns that she was an abusive parent.

Further to this, the social justice warrior had a considerable following on their Instagram account, and many of their followers also began to contact the small business owner directly through Instagram messaging platform. While some of the messages were tame, others involved accusations using heavy-handed language.

The most pressing issue in front of the High Court was whether the social justice warrior had crossed the line from critique and debate in a modern social media environment to harmful digital communications.

The court found that social justice warrior’s initial concerns regarding the welfare of the business owner’s children (and the reporting of this concern to Oranga Tamariki) were not harmful digital communications, however the continued shaming of the small business owner once Oranga Tamariki had cleared them of all allegations was.

The court further noted that while those who post details of all aspects of their life on public social media accounts must expect and put up with others’ views on such posts, this did not licence the extent of personal abuse in this instance.

Another critical issue was whether the online targeting was of the business, or of the business owner in her personal capacity. This is important, as a business would not have standing to bring a claim under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, but a business owner in their personal capacity would.

The court found that the online commentary suggested certain attributes in relation to the small business owner which could not be attributed to a company. For example, a company cannot be said to have a “ravenous ego”, nor can a company be an “entitled, deranged and panicked narcissist.” It was clear that the business owner herself, rather that the business, was being attacked.

The court ordered that the social justice warrior cease to post on any social media platforms about the small business owner for little over a year in the hope that by this time, the heat from these proceedings will have abated, and both parties could move on with their lives.


Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.