Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg is now facing “internal scrutiny” at the company after she pressured the British tabloid Daily Mail to remove a story about her ex-boyfriend, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
The revelations come in an explosive new report from the Wall Street Journal detailing a coordinated campaign to dissuade the tabloid from running the story, siphoning off resources from both Activision Blizzard and Meta.
Sandberg dated Kotick, now accused of facilitating a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination at his company, from 2016 to 2019. Despite denying he was aware of disturbing allegations of employee misconduct, including the alleged rape, Kotick apparently I knew many of them. incidents, a fact that he hid from the company’s board.
The Wall Street Journal report details how Sandberg contacted the Daily Mail’s digital division in 2016 and again in 2019 when the tabloid was working to uncover a temporary restraining order against Kotick that an ex-girlfriend put in place in 2014. Sandberg and Kotick reportedly “developed a strategy to persuade the Daily Mail not to report the restraining order,” working in conjunction with employees of their respective companies.
In both cases, Sandberg allegedly told the tabloid that Kotick’s ex-girlfriend has recanted the harassment allegations that led her to file for a restraining order.
According to The WSJ report, Meta is now reviewing the involvement of her COO in trying to kill the story about her then-boyfriend. When asked by TechCrunch if Sandberg had violated company policy by tapping into internal PR resources for a personal dispute, Meta declined to answer.
“Sheryl Sandberg never threatened MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook to influence an editorial decision,” Meta Executive Communications spokesperson Mao-Lin Shen said in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. “This story tries to make connections that don’t exist.”
For a company weary of a relentless series of scandals, the revelations about Sandberg’s meddling in her ex-boyfriend’s PR crisis are just another headache. It’s unclear how seriously Meta is scrutinizing his behavior, or if the leadership team in general was aware of it, though the WSJ indicates his actions are under “review” for potentially violating company rules. .
After years of tension and high-stakes policy establishment during the Trump years, Sandberg is reportedly no longer as close to Meta CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg as she once was. The Kotick situation may be seen as another misstep in which Sandberg makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Internally, Sandberg is known for deploying Meta’s PR resources in defense of her personal brand, though the degree to which Meta’s COO was working in unison with the rest of the company’s leadership around the issue remains unknown. Kotick’s situation.
Kotick is hanging by a thread
In a statement to TechCrunch, Activision Blizzard’s board of directors stated that Kotick informed the board’s senior independent director about the “incident” in 2014 and later notified the full board. After an investigation through the Skadden Arps law firm, the board determined that “the allegations were without merit.”
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson referred TechCrunch to Elizabeth McCloskey of the law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters, who provided a statement from Kotick’s ex-girlfriend, whom the firm declined to name, retracting its earlier accusations against Kotick.
“… In 2014 I signed an affidavit making it clear that what I had said was not true,” according to the statement by Kotick’s ex-girlfriend provided through the law firm. In the statement, he also accused The WSJ of “exploiting” it to publish an unflattering story about Kotick.
Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout and circulated a petition calling for Kotick’s resignation in November in light of his involvement in the ongoing cultural crisis at the company. Kotick has remained CEO until now, but reports suggest he won’t keep the job on the other side of Microsoft’s planned $69 billion acquisition of the company.
Activision Blizzard also named two new women to its board on Thursday, though the company told TechCrunch that the timing of this announcement is not related to new revelations about Kotick. Those additions to the board are Substack Vice President of Communications Lulu Cheng Meservey, formerly of TrailRunner, and Kerry Carr, Senior Vice President of Bacardi.
The pair of new board members will replace two men leaving the board. As noted by Bloomberg, the additions will bring Activision Blizzard’s board into compliance with California law that requires the board of a public company with six or more directors must include at least three women or face steep fines.
Kotick himself will soon be leaving the Coca-Cola board, where he served in a well-paying position for a decade. The company faced pressure from some investors to remove Kotick in light of the scandal that has developed around company culture at Activision Blizzard, though the games executive says he will be stepping down to focus on running his company through of the acquisition by Microsoft.
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