Sheryl Sandberg, the Meta executive, allegedly pressured the Daily Mail to drop unflattering stories about her then-boyfriend Bobby Kotick, the Activision Blizzard CEO, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reports that she persuaded the digital edition of the Mail not to run stories revealing that an ex-girlfriend of Kotick had obtained a temporary restraining order against him in 2014. Kotick reportedly said that Sandberg, who he dated for three years until 2019, told the Mail in 2016 that if the article were published, it could damage the outlet’s relationship with Facebook. Sandberg allegedly contacted the Daily Mail in 2016 and 2019 to put a stop to the articles, and both times the stories never ran.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting, Meta and Activision employees were involved in Sandberg’s effort to kill the story, as well as outside advisers.
Facebook is investigating whether Sandberg violated internal rules, the Journal reported, but a spokesperson denied the allegations. “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,” said Mao-Lin Shen, a Meta spokesperson.
Some Facebook executives believe any effort by Sandberg to stop a news article could have been seen as a threat given her powerful role at the company, the Journal reported.
Advisers to Sandberg were reportedly worried the news of a restraining order against Kotick could damage the Meta executive’s reputation as a champion for women. Sandberg has positioned herself as an advocate for women in the workplace, writing the 2013 book Lean In, which encourages women “sit at the table” and seek challenges to advance in their careers.
In 2014, according to the court documents reviewed by the Journal, Kotick allegedly traveled to the home of an ex-girlfriend uninvited, harassing her after she had broken up with him because of his “bullying and controlling nature”. The incident prompted her to obtain a temporary restraining order, which lasted about three weeks.
In a statement, Kotick told the Journal that its reporting was inaccurate, and that he never said Sandberg threatened the Daily Mail. Instead, Kotick said, the Mail chose not to run the story because it was not true.
Kotick’s ex-partner who took out the restraining order echoed his statement that the allegations she once made against him were untrue.
“I told the Wall Street Journal that what I said 8 years ago about Bobby was false. It is still false. In fact, in 2014, I signed a sworn statement making clear that what I had said about Bobby was untrue” she said in a statement that her attorney provided to the Guardian.
Kotick has been heavily criticized in recent months over accusations that he was aware of “many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard”. The company has faced multiple sexual harassment lawsuits and was sued by California over its workplace culture, which a state agency described as “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”. A group of shareholders accused Kotick of failing either “to ensure that the executives and managers responsible were terminated or to recognize and address the systematic nature of the company’s hostile workplace culture”.
The Activision Blizzard board of directors said in a statement that it has been aware of the incident since 2014, and that Kotick had been “fully transparent” to the board.
“The board, through its counsel Skadden Arps, has done a thorough examination of the facts and circumstances of the events, satisfied itself that there was no merit to the allegations, and notes that they concern a personal relationship that has nothing to do with the business of the Company. The board continues to have full confidence in Mr Kotick’s leadership and his ability to run the company,” it said in a statement to the Guardian.
The Daily Mail did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.