The image went around the world: in the midst of the repression of the democratic movement from Tiananmen to Beijing, on June 5, 1989, a man stands alone in front of a column of tanks. Failing to have a name, this stranger, who has become a symbol of resistance, has a nickname: “Tank Man”.
Surprisingly, the famous cliché disappeared from the Bing search engine on Friday, June 4, on the eve of the anniversary of the repression. “It is due to human error and we are actively working to remedy it”, explained a spokesperson for Microsoft, the computer giant owner of Bing, several hours after reports in the American press.
On Google Images, the competitor service very largely dominant on the Internet, the search for “Tank man” brought up hundreds of occurrences of the images taken in particular by the American photographers Jeff Widener and Charlie Cole who had received in 1990 the World Press price of photo of the year.
A little-known cliché in China
Pro-democracy protests lasted for seven weeks in 1989. Their repression left hundreds, if not more than a thousand, dead. But the cliché remains largely unrecognized in China due to censorship.
The country has an extensive Internet surveillance system that allows it to purge any content deemed sensitive, such as political criticism or pornography. In the name of stability, the country requires the digital giants to have their own censors to carry out this task upstream.
Failing to comply with these regulations, the vast majority of foreign search engines and social networks – Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – are blocked in China and Internet users can only access them with bypass software (VPN) . But the disappearance of the photo on Bing, outside of China, seems incomprehensible.
Any commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown is banned in China, and the semi-autonomous Hong Kong region was the only place where it was tolerated. But with Beijing’s turn of the screw against all forms of opposition in the former British colony, the traditional candlelight vigil was banned this year.
The park where it stands remained empty for the first time in thirty-two years, since, last year, some had defied the ban issued due to the Covid-19 pandemic.