Frances Townsend, an Activision Blizzard executive, has deleted her Twitter account after backlash against her tweet promoting “the problem with whistleblowing.”
While currently acting as Activision Blizzard’s Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs, she previously worked as the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. During that time she was also criticized for her defense of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” [1, 2] against terrorism suspects and guilty parties.
This came to the forefront with the Activision Blizzard sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit. Townsend had also upset employees; calling the allegations in the lawsuit as “distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago,” in a leaked internal email.
While some were already critical of Townsend’s involvement with Activision Blizzard combined with her history, the final straw may have been Townsend tweet an article from The Atlantic; The New Moral Code of America’s Elite with the text “the Problem With Whistleblowing.”
The article in question defends law professor and writer Amy Chua, and her alleged misconduct at Yale Law School; allegedly “grooming” attractive women to work as clerks Justice Brett Kavanaugh [1, 2, 3,]. The Atlantic described the incident as “a skirmish between a notorious professor and an administration that seemed so eager to relieve itself of her presence that it lunged at an opportunity to weaken her position.”
A within the article is a link to another; The Problem With the Whistle-Blower System. In a now deleted tweet, Townsend had tweeted the former article while almost quoting the title of the latter.
“You literally spent an hour directly hearing the gut-wrenching pain and anger of employees last week and this is what you decide to amplify while vacationing in the Hamptons?” Overwatch UI/UX Designer Daniel Peterson tweeted. “You actively burned wonderful people who want safety and equity, while demolishing trust in our company.”
Other replies to Townsend can be found [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and more], but Townsend’s tweet was not archived, loosing context (seemingly being in reply to Chua or possibly someone else). Nonetheless, it appears that Townsend deleted her Twitter account shortly after the tweet drew outcry.
As @SkillUpYT tweeted “It’s so funny that this person withstood years of condemnation from the international community for defending literal torture but buckled after like 3 days of tweets from Gamers.”
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment, which may have led to one woman who committed suicide on a company trip, and discrimination for women being paid less and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
Activision Blizzard stated that while “there is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind,” they felt the Californian report “ includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal email from Activision executive Frances Townsend described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
In response, almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” It also called for official statements “that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.”
Staff led a walkout on July 28th; listing demands including ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff.
Sources claimed staff would not be punished for the walkout, and had paid time off. Kotick later stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.”
Along with bringing in a law firm to conduct an immediate review of Activision Blizzard policies and procedures; Kotick stated the company would investigate all the claims, creating safe spaces for Listening Sessions organized by third parties, an immediate evaluation of managers and leaders, compliance resources for diverse hiring, and removing NPCs from World of Warcraft inspired by those named in the allegations.
The staff stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response to the lawsuit; stating it did not address ending forced arbitration, workers involved in the oversight of hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency, or employee selection of a third party to audit the company processes and HR.
Further, almost 500 former and current Ubisoft employees announced their support for Activision Blizzard staff in an open letter; calling for new industry-wide rules and processes. Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard Entertainment developer and founder of Undead Labs, recently called for unionization of the video games industry.
An “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff have demanded WilmerHale not be the third party auditing the company. This is due to an alleged conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and Avakian specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
Recently, Coca-Cola and State Farm announced they were reassessing their partnerships with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, pulling their promotions from upcoming events. They join T-Mobile who pulled support from the Call of Duty league shortly after the controversy broke.