Sheryl Sandberg, the longtime Chief Operating Officer at Meta Platforms (you know, Facebook), leveraged the influence that her powerful role at the social media giant granted her to twice squash a tabloid’s damning story about her then-romantic partner, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal.
In 2016 and again in 2019, Sandberg allegedly contacted the MailOnline, the digital arm of British red top the Daily Mail, and according to the Journal, successfully shut down the publication of two stories about her partner at the time, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, that involved an apparent restraining order that was filed against him in 2014 by his previous girlfriend. Activision Blizzard is the video game holding company behind such titles as Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Guitar Hero and many others that you’ve heard of.
In 2016, Sandberg reportedly let notorious MailOnline editor Martin Clarke know in no uncertain terms that publishing these stories about Kotick’s prior legal woes and alleged harassment would negatively impact the site’s relationship with the almighty platform. The Journal reports that in 2019, she reached out to Jonathan Harmsworth, the chairman of the Daily Mail’s parent company, who reportedly then referred her to Clarke to once again handle the matter.
After her alleged conversations with the editor and publisher, no stories on the matter ever ran on the website, the report states. Sandberg and Kotick split in 2019.
The Journal reported that it reviewed court documents that allege that in 2014, Kotick arrived uninvited at the home of his ex-girlfriend, who was unnamed in the article. The gaming CEO allegedly harassed his ex after she had left him over what was said to be his “bullying and controlling nature.” An application for a three-week restraining order followed this alleged incident, the paper reported. After that three weeks was up, the courts dismissed the case and Kotick apparently began to say that the whole scenario was inaccurate.
Facebook staffers, representatives of Activation Blizzard and representatives from outside both companies were involved in the efforts to bury any reporting of the alleged incident and subsequent legal action, according to the Journal‘s report.
While the Journal reported that Meta is probing the allegations to see if Sandberg violated policy, a company rep issued a flat denial this week.
“Sheryl Sandberg never threatened MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision. This story attempts to make connections that don’t exist,” Meta spokesman Mao-Lin Shen said in a statement.
Sandberg carved out a niche for herself as a champion of women in leadership positions with her 2013 bestseller Lean In and the subsequent founding of the Lean In Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to lift up women through community, education, and peer group networking. While she was considered the most powerful woman in Silicon Valley for a decade, reports have emerged recently about her diminished profile amid Meta’s recent scandals and now-strained relationship with Meta leader Mark Zuckerberg.
The alleged instances of the COO’s contact with MailOnline took place in the years that Facebook was relentlessly gobbling up publisher’s lunch in terms of ad revenue and as digital media brands began to heavily rely on traffic sent to their sites from Facebook. The Daily Mail has consistently been a top-ranked publisher on Facebook; in the first week of April, it unseated The Daily Wire for the number one spot.
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