An image of “Tankman,” the unknown protester who blocked a column of Chinese tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989, mysteriously disappeared from Microsoft’s Bing search engine on Friday. The photo was taken exactly 32 years ago on Saturday.
“The problem is caused by human error and we are actively working to resolve it,” a Microsoft spokesperson said a few hours after US media reports. On Google Images, the Internet’s dominant rival search engine, a search for “Tank man” turned up hundreds of references to the image by American photographer Charlie Cole.
The photo shows a man in a white shirt. He symbolically stopped a column of at least fifteen tanks on 5 June 1989 in Tiananmen Square. Pro-democracy demonstrations had been going on for seven weeks at the time. The Chinese regime’s crackdown has killed hundreds, possibly thousands.
The photo, which was voted the best photo for the world press in 1990, is virtually unknown in China due to censorship. The country has a comprehensive internet censorship system that allows it to block all sensitive content, from pornography to political criticism. In the name of the country’s stability, China is forcing internet companies to hire their own monitors.
Since most search engines and social networks do not follow the regulations, they are blocked in China. A VPN connection is already required to bypass this ban. But the disappearance of the image on Bing, outside of China, seems incomprehensible.
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