Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta Platforms Inc. has come under fire for allegedly coercing the Daily Mail to drop a news story on her former boyfriend Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard. Daily Mail's digital version, MailOnline had plans to report on a restraining order filed against Kotick in 2014 by an ex-girlfriend which prompted Sandberg to reach out to the British tabloid.
The Wall Street Journal published a report on Thursday which revealed that the Meta Executive contacted MailOnline on two separate occasions to kill the stories centering around the restraining order against Kotick.
The first time was in 2016 when they began dating and Sandberg along with Kotick apparently discussed ways to kill the story with outside advisers and employees of both Meta and Activision. MailOnline employees were informed by Martin Clarke, the editor of the online tabloid at the time, that the story would no longer run when Sandberg reached out to him.
The second time happened in 2019 when they were close to breaking up. Sandberg had directly reached out to the chairman of the Daily Mail's parent company, Jonathan Harmsworth, via mail, who then referred her back to Clarke.
According to the Journal's report, Kotick's ex-girlfriend had obtained a three-week temporary restraining order due to the Activision CEO harassing her after their breakup and his "bullying and controlling nature". However, it was revealed later that the temporary restraining order against Kotick was removed soon after its enforcement as Kotick's accuser came forward to state that some of her claims were 'exaggerated or false'. What's more, the Daily Mail was reportedly conscious of the claims being untrue.
In a statement made to The Post, Kotick's former girlfriend criticized the Wall Street Journal's report and said, "In fact, in 2014, I signed a sworn statement making clear that what I had said was untrue. Nonetheless, the Journal decided to exploit me for an article it wanted to publish about Bobby."
As per the published report, Kotick apparently said that Sandberg had threatened the Daily Mail against running any story related to the situation as it could have a rather negative impact on the British tabloid's relationship with Facebook
Kotick, however, denied the claim in a statement to the Journal, saying that he "never said anything like that," the Guardian reported.
Threatening the British tabloid against publishing any article in association with Kotick's restraining order is perhaps the most worrisome accusation against Sandberg. Her advisers were especially worried that this news of a restraining order could permanently ruin her image as an advocate for women as she has made significant efforts in the previous years for invigorating women at the workplace which includes authoring a book in 2013.
Mao-Lin Shen, a Meta spokesperson when contacted for comments said, "Sheryl Sandberg never threatened the MailOnline's business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision. This story attempts to make connections that don't exist."
While Sandberg is currently under investigation by Facebook in order to determine whether she violated internal rules or not, according to the Journal, some Facebook executives believe that any involvement from Sandberg â even a phone call or an email â could be regarded as a threat because of her position as the COO.
As for Kotick, he has been heavily criticized for being ignorant to "many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard" in the last months. Activision was bombed with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits and sued for its corporate culture, highlighted as "a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women".
In a statement to the Guardian, the Activision Blizzard board of directors said that, "the board continues to have full confidence in Mr Kotick's leadership and his ability to run the company," adding that they are familiar with the 2014 incident, and since then Kotick had been "fully transparent" to the board.