Microsoft blamed human error after its search engine, Bing, blocked image and video results for the phrase “tank man” – a reference to the iconic image of a lone protester facing off tanks during the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square – on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary. military repression.
Users reported that no results were displayed for the search query in countries such as the United States, Germany, Singapore, France and Switzerland, according to Reuters and Vice News.
References to the pro-democracy protest movement have long been censored in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where the government maintains tight control over the internet, but Bing’s censorship has spread to users outside the “big wall”. fire ”from China.
Microsoft said the problem was “due to accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve it.”
Smaller search engines such as DuckDuckGo whose Microsoft licensing results have encountered similar problems with “tank man” searches and have said they expect a fix soon.
Rival Google showed plenty of results for the famous image when searching for “tank man” on Friday and Saturday.
The move came amid the PRC’s crackdown on Hong Kong, where it banned the Tiananmen Square Anniversary Vigil for the second year in a row, and growing concern over the extent to which China can exercise influence. economic pressure to enforce its censorship abroad.
Just last week, US actor John Cena issued a public apology for calling Taiwan a “country,” an offense to the PRC for insisting that Taiwan is not an independent state.
US-based tech companies have long struggled to balance their desire to operate in the huge Chinese market with government censorship demands.
Microsoft Bing is one of the few foreign search engines accessible in China, as the company has agreed to censor results for sensitive terms such as the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square, or Falun Gong.
In 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook was working on a secret tool that would allow a third party to censor the platform for Chinese users in return for the PRC allowing Facebook to operate in the country.
In 2018, Google employees exposed an internal plan to create a censored search engine that the company said would allow it to return to China. Google pulled out of China in 2010 due to censorship and piracy.
A Microsoft spokesperson said, “This is due to accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve this issue.”
In 2014, the Guardian reported that Bing was censoring results for Chinese-speaking users in the United States for many of the same terms as Bing censors in China, such as the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square, and Falun Gong.
In 2009, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about receiving seemingly censored results on Bing when he researched topics such as the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square, and Falun Gong using simplified Chinese characters.
A company spokesperson told Kristof that the pro-CCP results were due to “a bug.”