Over the weekend, amidst all the turmoil and toxic publicity being generated by the investigation and subsequent lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over the company’s abusive workplace conditions, Activision Blizzard’s Fran Townsend thought it would be the perfect time to tweet “the Problem With Whistleblowing”.
Update - 10:39 a.m. ET, 8/4/21: Fran Townsend now appears to have nuked her Twitter account altogether. We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for further clarification.
Update - 3:20 p.m. ET, 8/4/21: “This was her personal account,” A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Kotaku. “The company didn’t ask her to delete it. It was her decision.” They also confirmed Townsend remains in her role as chief compliance officer.
Original Story follows.
To recap, this is a woman who in the wake of the DFEH’s suit becoming public, sent an email to staff calling it “meritless” and was so widely criticised it was specifically mentioned as a cause of last week’s walkout, while calls for her removal from her position as sponsor for the company’s women’s network are also increasing.
In a previous and more public position prior to her appointment in March as Activision Blizzard’s vice president for corporate affairs, corporate secretary, and chief compliance officer, Townsend once served Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism during the Bush administration, where she was responsible for stuff like:
She was one of the big boosters behind raising the national “terror threat level” during Bush’s close 2004 re-election campaign based on three-year old evidence, a decision then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge later said he was politically pressured into making. The then-head of Abu Ghraib prison where people were tortured said he felt similarly pressured to increase the amount of intelligence coming out of the interrogations following a visit by Townsend.
Townsend later went onto defend the Bush administration’s use of torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity. “Regardless of what you think on the issue of whether or not waterboarding is torture, there were legal documents created and relied upon by career intelligence officials who then implemented the program,” she said during a 2009 interview with CNN after the Obama administration declassified Bush-era memos making the legal case for the CIA’s use of torture. “There were very strict controls on the program. These people relied on them and, now, to release them and to subject these people, these career professionals to a sort of public humiliation and opprobrium and then the potential of a congressional investigation really will make our intelligence community risk-averse.”
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”.
Great ideas can come from anywhere. Blizzard Entertainment is what it is today because of the voices of our players and of each member of the company. Every employee is encouraged to speak up, listen, be respectful of other opinions, and embrace criticism as just another avenue for great ideas.