CCO Of Activision Blizzard Busy Blocking Everyone, Including Employees, On Twitter Amid Fair Employment Lawsuit
from the maybe-try-blocking-the-harassment-instead dept
Good public relations, when mired in a controversy, isn’t always easy, but it does tend to be quite simple. If you have a controversy on your hands, be direct, be honest, be transparent, do not attempt to paper over the controversy with other good works already done, and for the love of god do not give any indication that you’re turning a deaf ear to those who are upset over the controversy.
Or, if you’re Activision Blizzard, do the exact opposite of all of the above and definitely trot out your own Chief Compliance Officer to do so. The context around this is that Activision Blizzard was recently sued by the state of California over its workplace practices, with specific issues revolving around reported treatment of women and people of color that, if true, are absolutely horrific.
Bloomberg reports that the suit, filed on July 20, is the culmination of a two-year investigation into the publisher by the Department, which says that Activision Blizzard’s “compliance with California’s broad workplace protections is long overdue.”
“To enforce such compliance,” the case says, “DFEH brings this government enforcement action seeking to remedy, prevent and deter [Activision Blizzard’s] violations of state’s civil rights and equal pay laws.”
The accusations contained in the suit and in the statements by purported victims range from the unfortunately common, women and PoCs not being paid and promoted at the rate of their white male counterparts, to the far more extreme and horrific. The other end of that spectrum includes accusations the “cubicle crawls” performed by male employees in which they crawl under the desks of female coworkers and grope them, women having to ward off unwanted sexual advances on the regular, and at least one female employee killing herself after a supervisor showed up on a business trip with sexual devices for reasons too obvious to need to state.
In a particularly tragic example, a female employee committed suicide during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.
The lawsuit, brought by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, was filed on July 20th. On July 23rd, Activision Blizzard’s Chief Compliance Officer, Frances Townsend, is reported to have sent an email out to Blizzard staff that takes great pains to do the opposite of much of what I mentioned would have been good PR: talked about how great the company is on workplace and equality issues, downplayed the lawsuit, etc.
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYF
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
So, not a good start. Other Blizzard execs appeared to be trying to portray a listening posture to all of this, while Townsend instead downplayed and papered over the whole thing. Then, on July 30th, again in the context of the company she’s the CCO for, she tweets out the following.
— Frances Townsend (@FranTownsend) July 30, 2021
Reaction to Townsend’s combined actions ranged from curious as to what in the world she was attempting to accomplish to the far more common reaction of absolute disgust and anger with her actions and statements. The Twitter reaction to her has been quite scathing. Duly so, in this writer’s opinion. This, again, is the time when good PR needs to take over: apologize directly, be transparent, build a plan for doing better.
But Townsend’s gonna Townsend, I guess, so instead:
Taking all this into account, along with the content and timing of her tweet, public reaction has not been positive! It has been almost universally challenged or mocked, which is expected, it’s Twitter and that happens every day, it’s what the ratio is there for. But what’s notable here is that rather acknowledging that she, as an executive employed in a leadership position at a company in turmoil, had made a bad tweet and responded accordingly—by doing something like locking her account, deleting the tweet or simply ignoring the criticism and getting on with whatever the rich do on the weekend—she began systematically blocking anyone even mildly critical of her decision to share a story about the perils of whistleblowing while her company is in the midst of historically shocking allegations brought on by employees testifying confidentially.
That includes multiple journalists and developers from outside companies, but also many current and former employees of Activision Blizzard as well. Her employees, and colleagues. Now is as good a time as any to take a look at Blizzard’s core corporate values, one of which is “every voice matters”.
Every voice matters, unless the CCO doesn’t like what that voice is voicing, in which case she will happily block even her own staff on social media. A staff that has staged walkouts over all of this. A staff that has reportedly been failed by its executive leadership, of which Townsend is a part. A staff that makes it possible for women like Townsend to make the salaries they do.
Hiding from your own staff and journalists isn’t good PR. In fact, it isn’t good anything. If Activision Blizzard wants to start doing good, it may want to start with a staffing problem it has at the CCO position.