Microsoft Says Bing’s ‘Tank Man’ Censorship Was Human Error


Microsoft search engine Bing, which searched for “Tank Man,” the iconic figure of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, yielded no image results in the United States for part of Friday. Vice was able to produce the same results in the US, and heard from multiple 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, it’s just images that were mysteriously missing. When The edge contacted Microsoft for an explanation, it said “This is due to unintentional human error and we are actively working to resolve it.”

Search results for “Tank Man” after the accident.

It’s a sadly timed accident, as June 4, 2021 marks the 32nd anniversary of China’s student-led protests — an uprising in response to changes in the country that were confronted by assault rifles, tanks and carnage. Microsoft eventually restored the results to the specific query, although the known image is still noticeably missing. However, adding a mention of “Tiananmen” or “Tiananmen Square” yields what you would expect. It’s not clear why Bing would outweigh generic images of tanks over a famous piece of visual history, but we’ve reached out to Microsoft to see if that’s normal.

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 telecom company, was ordered to block it, according to the Financial times. Microsoft did not disclose the cause of the outage, but the service was eventually restored.

Google had trouble exploring a modified version of Google Search for China, but faced tough backlash from employees and US regulators over the product’s potential impact on users in the country.