Meta COO Killed Reporting on Restraining Order Against Bobby Kotick
Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg twice pressured a U.K. tabloid to refrain from publishing a story about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick's ex-girlfriend filing a restraining order against him, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The Daily Mail's story centered around 2014 court filings that showed Kotick's ex-girlfriend had received a temporary restraining order against him. She had originally asked for a longer-lasting restraining order, but after three weeks both parties requested the matter be dropped. The restraining order ended and the petition was dismissed.
The petitioner later told people that some of her statements in the filing were either exaggerated or untrue.
In 2016, Sandberg contacted the digital edition of the Daily Mail, known as the MailOnline, while it was reporting on the existence of a temporary restraining order against Kotick obtained in 2014 by an ex-girlfriend. Sandberg and Kotick were dating at the time of the contact.
The two executives formed a team of Facebook and Activision employees, plus paid outside advisers, to build a strategy that would "persuade the Daily Mail not to report on the restraining order." Sandberg and Kotick repeated this campaign in 2019, near the end of their relationship. They were successful both times, and Kotick has reportedly told people that Sandberg directly threatened the Mail in 2016 by saying the publication of the article could damage the Mail's business relationship with Facebook.
Kotick denies saying this. He told the Journal his understanding was that the story did not run because it was untrue, and that he and the ex-girlfriend who petitioned for the restraining order against him remain friends.
In addition to the obvious bad press such a story would have caused Kotick, Sandberg and her advisors worried its publication would damage her reputation as an advocate for women.
Facebook started a review of Sandberg's actions to determine whether she violated company rules after the Wall Street Journal began reporting on the incidents last year. People who worked with Sandberg at the time say a direct threat would have been unusual, but that any intervention from her over a news story could be perceived as a threat given her power and influence.
A spokeswoman for Meta said "Sheryl Sandberg never threatened the MailOnline's business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision."
In a transcript of the sworn declaration provided in the restraining order filing, Kotick's ex-girlfriend said she ended her relationship with him because of his "bullying and controlling nature." Kotick then went to her home uninvited and tried to get in. She then called the police, who gave her an emergency protective order. The temporary restraining order that followed blocked Kotick from coming within 100 years of her. It was dissolved on April 17, 2014.