Microsoft Says Bing’s “Tank Man” Censorship Was Human Error

On Microsoft’s search engine Bing, a search for ‘Tank Man’, the iconic figure of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, yielded no image results in the US during part of Friday . Vice was able to produce the same results in the United States, and heard from several users from other countries who encountered the same problem.

Stranger still, searching for “Tank Man” or “Tiananmen Square Tank Man” returned normal search results in Bing, just images that were mysteriously missing. When The edge contacted Microsoft for an explanation, he said “This is due to accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve this issue.

Search results for “Tank Man” after the crash.

It’s an unfortunately timed accident given that June 4, 2021 is the 32nd anniversary of the student protests in China – an uprising in response to changes in the country that was met with assault rifles, tanks and massacre. Microsoft eventually restored the specific search results, though it’s still noticeably missing the well-known image. However, adding a mention of “Tiananmen” or “Tiananmen Square” reveals what you expected. It’s unclear why Bing would weigh generic tank images more heavily than a famous piece of visual history, but we reached out to Microsoft to see if that’s okay.

Search results for “Tank Man” after Microsoft fixed the issue.

Bing’s presence in China is somewhat complicated. The search engine disappeared from the country for almost a day in 2019, apparently because China Unicom, the state-owned telecommunications company, was ordered to block it, according to FinancialTimes. Microsoft did not reveal the cause of the outage, but service was eventually restored.

Google ran into trouble exploring a modified version of Google Search for China, but faced harsh backlash from US employees and regulators over the impact the product might have on users in the country.