Stop Funding Hate, a campaign group that fought for Paperchase to end its promotion in the Daily Mail, has been accused of “harassing advertisers into withdrawing their support for a free press”.
Sarah Baxter, deputy editor at the Sunday Times and columnist, said Paperchase had been “bullied” by a “small army” of people on social media to cut ties with the paper.
The stationery store apologised on Monday after a weekend promotion it ran in the Daily Mail sparked a huge backlash encouraged by Stop Funding Hate, which tries to convince companies not to advertise in newspapers it accuses of spreading “hate”.
Paperchase said it was “truly sorry” and that it had “listened” to customers, adding: “We won’t ever do it again.”
Speaking on Newsnight on Monday, Baxter said: “It’s a company being bullied by a small army of Twitter and social media trolls into using activism as a weapon against the free press.
“It’s a very, very sad day for an independent media.”
She said that Paperchase had “blundered” into accepting the word of “a few Twitter trolls”, adding: “I’m sure Paperchase really doesn’t want to get involved in that kind of political and cultural war.”
Richard Wilson, director of Stop Funding Hate, responded: “I think that the core concern that so many Stop Funding Hate supporters have is that experts have warned that the hate in some of the UK’s biggest newspapers is fuelling hate crime on the streets.”
He added: “This isn’t just stuff that people find offensive or disagreeable, this is stuff that’s actually having a real impact in people’s lives.
“And if you look at what Stop Funding Hate supporters were saying and what Paperchase customers were saying online, they were very friendly, they were very polite, they were using words like ‘we love Paperchase’, they were being very civil.”
Baxter interjected, saying: “This is an idiotic argument.”
She accused Stop Funding Hate of “trawling” through newspapers to find things that they are offended by and said the group “deploys a social media mob to harass advertisers into withdrawing their support for a free press.”
Stop Funding Hate was also accused of trying to close down newspapers by “destroying” their source of funding.
Paperchase’s promotion offered Daily Mail readers two free rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, worth £4.75, from the store.
The company apologised after a Stop Funding Hate campaign encouraged people to contact Paperchase “urging them to rethink” their partnership with the Daily Mail.
In a statement, The Daily Mail accused Paperchase of allowing itself to be “bullied into apologising” and described Stop Funding Hate as “a small group of hard left Corbynist individuals seeking to suppress legitimate debate and impose their views on the media”.
The Stop Funding Hate campaign group claims its aim is to “tackle the culture of hate and demonisation that is dividing our society”.
The group often targets companies advertising in British tabloids whose politics it disagrees with.
A Daily Mail spokesperson said in a statement on Monday: “It is deeply worrying that Paperchase should have allowed itself to be bullied into apologising – on the back of a derisory number of Facebook comments and tweets – to internet trolls orchestrated by a small group of hard left Corbynist individuals seeking to suppress legitimate debate and impose their views on the media.
“Has the company considered what message they are sending to the four million people who read the Daily Mail on Saturday, many of whom will be their customers?”