On Friday’s 32nd anniversary of Chinese troops killing protesters in Tiananmen Square, the Microsoft-operated Bing internet search engine would not return search results for the phrase “Tank Man” — a term used to refer to a famous image of an unidentified man standing in the streets near Tiananmen Square, blocking a convoy of Chinese tanks.
Unlike its main search engine competitor Google, Bing has been allowed to operate inside of China, CNN reported. Microsoft has to censor Bing search results for the Chinese government, but on Friday, Bing users in other countries, including the U.S., U.K., and Singapore also found the “Tank Man” images missing.
Voice of America White House Bureau Cheif Steve Herman tweeted, “Searching for images of “tank man” today on @bing, the search engine of @Microsoft. #天安门大屠杀.”
The lack of search results for the phrase “Tank Man” prompted accusations Microsoft was censoring the image on behalf of the Chinese government. The BBC reported a Microsoft spokesperson said the issue was “due to an accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve this.”
Microsoft’s response to the incident earned mockery from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz tweeted, “Was the ‘accidental human’ who made the error by any chance the head of China Marketing for Microsoft?”
China exercises tight controls over all internet activity within the country and frequently censors topics that reflect negatively on the Chinese government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government has long targeted discussion of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square killing by troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has come to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Some estimates say as many as 10,000 people were killed by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tanks that plowed through crowds and PLA troops that fired upon civilians.
Bing’s removal of search results for “Tank Man” comes as authorities in Hong Kong also cracked down on vigils honoring those killed in Tiananmen Square. While China has long exercised tight censorship over discussions of Tiananmen Square, people in the once semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong had for years gathered in Victoria Park to hold candlelight vigils.
Last year’s vigils in Hong Kong were banned due to COVID-19 restrictions. Within the last year, mainland China has also extended new national security laws over Hong Kong that banned broadly defined activities, such as “sedition,” “subversion” and “succession” against the Chinese government. Vigils were again banned this year, with authorities citing COVID-19 concerns despite no cases being reported in the territory for six weeks. Police arrested a number of activists promoting vigil events in Victoria Park and Hong Kong police surrounded the park to bar people from entering on June 4. Those charged with disobeying the ban on gatherings in Hong Kong face up to five years imprisonment.