Notorious big tech executives Sheryl Sandberg and Bobby Kotick once had a big tech power couple relationship in the late 2010s. A new report shows that, like the wonder twins, with their powers combined, the Meta COO and Activision Blizzard CEO would let no British tabloid leave either of them with a black eye, as long as they could help it.
Shame for them that they don’t have each other’s resources this time around.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Sandberg and Kotick worked together to put pressure on The Daily Mail that would have damaged both executives’ reputations, according to anonymous sources at both the paper and unnamed individuals close to the two executives. This reportedly happened in both 2016 and 2019. In both years, The Daily Mail was reporting on a 2014 temporary restraining order filed against Kotick by a former girlfriend. The details of that restraining order are still unknown. Meta is reportedly reviewing Sandberg’s actions.
Kotick and Sandberg were dating from around 2016 to 2019. Their relationship ended during a time of upheaval for Facebook amid ongoing scandal over Facebook selling millions of users’ data to Cambridge Analytica.
The Journal reported that Sandberg and Kotick worked together with employees of both Facebook and Activision, as well as outside advisers, to persuade The Daily Mail to disappear the story, telling the tabloid’s then-editors that the former girlfriend had retracted the allegations in order to convince the reporters there was no need to report on it. The ex-gf had initially petitioned for a longer-lasting order but then dropped her claims. In 2019, Sandberg emailed the paper, escalating her concerns to the desk of then-editor-in-chief Martin Clarke. A second time, the Daily Mail did not run a story.
Kotick denied the allegations that he specifically pressured the British newspaper to drop the story, adding that the matter involving the restraining order was long dealt with and that he and the former girlfriend “remain friends.” In a statement from Meta, the company said that Sandberg never threatened the paper’s business relationship with Facebook “in order to influence an editorial decision.” Newspapers depend on Facebook for their readership, something that was true then and is true now.
The Journal reported that public relations and legal advisors to Sandberg were worried that news of that restraining order would hurt her reputation as a feminist and a role model for women. Sandberg, a top executive at the company since 2008, has built a persona of supporting women in the workplace, particularly through the organization LeanIn that she started in 2013, the same year she wrote her book of the same name.
But noble goals only get you so far, apparently. Sandberg was involved in a 2017 scheme to get the lowdown on billionaire George Soros’ financial interests after he had the gall to critique Facebook. According to reporting from the New York Times and Buzzfeed, the company planned to hire an outside research firm to conduct opposition research against Soros. The Facebook board stood behind Sandberg, saying that such action was “entirely appropriate.”
Kotick, on the other hand, doesn’t have much of a philanthropic background to launder his reputation. Activision Blizzard has been mired in scandal after scandal over the past few months over allegations of widespread sexual harassment. California is now suing the company, and worse, the Journal wrote in another story that Kotick not only knew about the sexual harassment, but worked to downplay it and mitigate blowback.
Though Meta may be reviewing Sandberg’s actions, we already know Kotick has a golden parachute and a nice, comfortable waterbed made of employees’ tears when he finally lands back on earth. In January, Microsoft announced it was buying Activision wholesale for a whopping $68.7 billion, and in the meantime, Sandberg’s ex-bf remains CEO of the company.