In February, right before the start of the Sochi Olympics, Stephane Samson, brand manager for the Lotus Formula 1 racing team, sent a tweet that was a dig at Russia's passing of anti-gay laws. The tweet was deleted and Lotus apologized for it being sent and a month later Samson was out. He now says he was fired and posted these tweets over the weekend.
Just been told I was sacked because of my supporting tweet towards gay athletes at Sochi. Lotus=Putin. Please retweet. People must know.— stephane samson (@stephanesamson) June 15, 2014
So many people asked for it… This is why is was sacked from my position as Group Brand Driector at Lotus. pic.twitter.com/iN0jDR2bmn— stephane samson (@stephanesamson) June 15, 2014
The auto site Jalopnik was unable to get a Lotus spokesperson to comment, so we only have Samson's version of events so far. However, the BBC's Forumla 1 writer was specific in February that the tweet pissed off important Russian business interests.
The Lotus F1 tweet upset top management and shareholders of the team, who are owned by the investment group Genii Capital, because it was causing problems for their business. Genii is a multi-billion dollar company with investments around the globe, including significant interests in Russia.
The Lotus team have a new Russian backer, mobile phone company Yotaphone. Its parent company Yota Devices is poised to buy a 10% shareholding in the team.
Companies are always leery of using social media to inject political opinions but I can't see why in and of itself, Samson's Olympics tweet was any reason for his dismissal. Samson took to Twitter Sunday to defend himself against charges that his tweet was out of line.
@MrJamesRowe It was not a personal opinion. Coke did it, Google did it. The communications department at Lotus felt it had to do something.— stephane samson (@stephanesamson) June 16, 2014
The Lotus Twitter account had a reputation for being edgy, Jalopnik says, with tweets that included images of squirrels screwing and this one last year:
None of these tweets got Samson fired, but pissing off important Russians is another matter.