The photo of ‘Tankman’, the unknown protester who blocked the way for a column of Chinese tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989, mysteriously disappeared from the Bing search engine of software company Microsoft on Friday. It will be exactly 32 years ago on Saturday that the photo was taken.
“The problem is due to 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 competing search engine that is dominant on the Internet, a search for “Tank man” turned up hundreds of references to the photo by American photographer Charlie Cole.
The photo shows a man in a white shirt. He symbolically stops a column of at least fifteen tanks on June 5, 1989, at Tiananmen Square. Demonstrations for democracy had been going on for seven weeks at that time. The repressive crackdown by the Chinese regime has killed hundreds, possibly thousands.
The photo, which was voted World Press Photo of the Year in 1990, is virtually unknown in China due to censorship. The country has a comprehensive internet monitoring 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 censors.
Since most search engines and social networks do not follow the regulations, they are blocked in China. A VPN connection is already needed to bypass that block. But the disappearance of the photo on Bing, outside of China, seems incomprehensible.