Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Meta Platforms, used her influence to bury two stories about her then-boyfriend, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, according to a bombshell report from The Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ reports that, in 2016 and again in 2019, Sandberg contacted MailOnline, the online imprint of the U.K.’s Daily Mail tabloid, in an attempt to stop the outlet from reporting about a restraining order filed against Kotick by his ex-girlfriend. On both occasions, the story did not run. Now, Facebook is investigating the issue to see if Sandberg potentially violated company policy.
According to sources in the WSJ report, Kotick said that Sandberg threatened the Mail in 2016, stating that any article published about the restraining order could damage the publication’s relationship with Facebook. Kotick denied this, telling the Journal, “I never said anything like that.”
In 2019, when the Mail was again looking to publish a story about the incident, Sandberg emailed the chairman of the Mail’s parent company, who referred her to the publication’s then editor in chief, Martin Clarke, according to the WSJ story. The two exchanged emails and, once again, the story did not run. It is important to note that, according to the Journal, sources at the Mail who were in communication with Sandberg said they did not feel threatened.
Sandberg has a reputation for being a champion for women’s rights in the workplace, penning the 2013 book Lean In and founding the LeanIn.org nonprofit foundation. Bobby Kotick’s reputation, however, has suffered greatly in the wake of accusations that he covered up or ignored the workplace harassment at the heart of multiple lawsuits against his company, Activision Blizzard. In court documents related to the restraining order, the WSJ reports that Kotick allegedly showed up uninvited to his then-girlfriend’s house in March 2014 and tried to gain entry after she told him their relationship was over because of his “bullying and controlling nature.”
In a statement to the Journal, a Meta spokeswoman said, “Sheryl Sandberg never threatened the MailOnline’s business relationship with Facebook in order to influence an editorial decision.”
In a statement emailed to The Verge, Meta spokesperson Caroline Nola repeated the company’s statement to the WSJ, and added “This story attempts to make connections that don’t exist.”
Update April 21 12:50pm: Added statement from Meta