Microsoft Corp. on Friday blamed “accidental human error” for its Bing search engine not showing results for the query “tank man” in the United States and elsewhere after users raised concerns about possible censorship around the Tiananmen Square crackdown anniversary.
Users, including in Germany and Singapore, reported Friday that when they performed the search Bing returned the message, “There are no results for tank man.”
Hours after Microsoft acknowledged the issue, the same search returned only pictures of tanks elsewhere in the world.
“Tank man” is often used to describe an unidentified person famously pictured standing before tanks in China’s Tiananmen Square during pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1989.
Microsoft said the issue was “due to an accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve this.”
Smaller search engines such as DuckDuckGo that license results from Microsoft faced similar issues around “tank man” searches and said they expected a fix soon.
Rival Google showed many results for the famous image when the “tank man” search was performed on Friday.
A significant percentage of the Microsoft employees who work on Bing are based in China, including some who work on image-recognition software, according to a former employee.
China is known to require search engines operating in its jurisdiction to censor results, but those restrictions are rarely applied elsewhere.
In related news Nigeria said on Friday it had indefinitely suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the social media giant removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Mohammed did not spell out what form the suspension would take or give more details on the undermining activities. His ministry also announced Twitter’s suspension on Twitter.
When asked about the details of the suspension, a ministerial aide told Reuters: “Wait and see how things will turn out.”
As of the early hours of Saturday, Twitter’s website was inaccessible in Nigeria on some mobile carriers, while its app and website worked on others, according to Reuters tests in Lagos and Abuja.
Twitter is investigating its “deeply concerning” suspension of operations by the Nigerian government, and “will provide updates when we know more,” the company said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the US tech firm said Buhari’s post threatening to punish groups blamed for attacks on government buildings had violated Twitter’s “abusive behavior” policy.
In April, the information minister reacted angrily when Twitter chose neighboring Ghana for its first African office. He said the company had been influenced by media misrepresentations of Nigeria, including reports of crackdowns on protests last year.
Demonstrators calling for police reform had used social media to organize, raise money and share alleged proof of police harassment. Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, tweeted to encourage his followers to donate.
In the protests’ wake, Mohammed called for “some form of regulation” on social media to combat “fake news.”
A spokesperson for Airtel, one of Nigeria’s largest mobile carriers, on Friday declined to say whether the company had received any government directives about the suspension.
MTN, the largest mobile carrier, did not respond to calls and a message seeking comment. (Reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas, Angela Ukomadu, Alexis Akwagyiram, Nneka Chile and Seun Sanni in Lagos, and Paul Carsten in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Andrew Heavens/ Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)
In related developments Facebook Inc. on Friday suspended former US President Donald Trump from its platform until at least January 2023 in a decision that has been watched closely for signals on how the company will treat rule-breaking world leaders in the future.
The social media giant’s independent oversight board in May upheld its block on Trump, which was enforced in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol over concerns that his posts were inciting violence.
However, the board ruled it was wrong to make the ban indefinite and gave it six months to determine a “proportionate response.”
Trump’s suspension was effective from the initial date in January and will only be reinstated if conditions permit, Facebook said in a blog post.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Facebook said.
The decision came on the same day as Europe and Britain launched formal antitrust investigations into whether Facebook misuses its vast trove of customer data.
Social media companies have grappled in recent years with how to handle world leaders and politicians that violate their guidelines.
Facebook has come under fire from those who think it should abandon its hands-off approach to political speech. But it has also been criticized by those, including Republican lawmakers and some free-expression advocates, who saw the Trump ban as a disturbing act of censorship.
Trump’s suspension was the first time Facebook had blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state.
Source: Arab News