Romney slams Microsoft over censorship of Tiananmen Square image

The iconic image of a pro-democracy protest was censored last week on Bing

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Thursday 10 June 2021 14:59
<p>“Tank man” refers to the pro-democracy protestor who stood in front of Chinese government tanks in Tiananmen Square on 4 June, 1989</p>

“Tank man” refers to the pro-democracy protestor who stood in front of Chinese government tanks in Tiananmen Square on 4 June, 1989

Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican of Utah, has questioned Microsoft on why the company’s search engine censored images in the United States that related to protests against the Chinese government.

The question came after searching “tank man” on Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, yielded no image results temporarily last week.

“Tank man” was the nickname for the unidentified protester who was pictured standing in front of tanks that drove into Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June, 1989, during the Chinese government’s brutal massacre of pro-democracy activists.

Microsoft claimed that the reason why the searching “tank man” resulted in no image results was due to “accidental human error”, but it happened on the 32nd anniversary of the picture.

In a letter sent to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Mr Romney criticised the temporary censorship.

“While the People’s Republic of China infamously censors internet search terms related to the Tiananmen Square Massacre (including “Tank Man”), the possibility that the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship would be extended to the United States by an American company is unacceptable,” Mr Romney wrote in the letter, CNN first reported.

Microsoft’s Bing operates in China but follows the government’s laws, which includes censoring terms like “tank man” from its residents. The government’s censorship for its citizens typically increases ahead of big anniversaries, such as the one for the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The censorship happened on the search engine for all of Friday before the images were returned on Saturday for people using Bing outside of China.

Mr Romney demanded answers on what happened to lead to a censorship of the image on the anniversary in places like the United States.

“The timing of the missing result – the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre – leads to further questions, especially given Microsoft’s operations in China,” he wrote.

The senator went on to request that Microsoft provide Congress with a list of terms that China has requested the search engine to censor over the last year, including the terms leading up to the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

He also requested that the CEO detail exactly how this “accidental human error” occurred, and if it was intentional or unintentional.

The Independent has contacted Microsoft for a comment.

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