China May Have Caused Tiananmen 'Streisand Effect'

E-commerce personality went offline after displaying tank-shaped ice cream snack
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2022 6:10 PM CDT

As in previous years, China fought hard this year to suppress any mention of the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989—and one of the country's most prominent e-commerce influencers may have accidentally fallen on the wrong side of censors. On the eve of the anniversary, a live show presented by Li Qiagi abruptly went offline just minutes after he displayed the ice cream he was promoting in a shape that resembled a tank, with cookies and a chocolate stick as decorations, Fortune reports.

In a message online, Li, also known as Austin Li, blamed a technical glitch—but he failed to reappear for another livestream Sunday. The sudden halt to the Friday feed from Taobao Marketplace left "millions of fans watching online clueless about what happened," reports the South China Morning Post. Most of Li's 170 million followers on the Weibo platform were born after the 1989 massacre and apparently didn't immediately connect the mystery disappearance to the tank-shaped snack, the Wall Street Journal reports. Military tanks were used against civilian protesters in 1989, and Chinese censors routinely remove images of tanks posted online in the days surrounding the anniversary every year.

Li himself was born in 1992, and it's not clear whether he would have realized that an ice cream design resembling a tank was problematic. CNN notes that in discussions on Weibo that were quickly removed by censors, viewers said they had found out more about the events of 1989 when they evaded the "Great Firewall" to try to learn more about why Li had gone offline. "This is the Streisand effect," says US-based analyst Eric Liu. "Censorship is all about keeping the truth from the public. But if people don't know about it, they are bound to keep making 'mistakes' like this." For now, Li's name can no longer be found in search results on the Taobao site. (In Hong Kong, where the annual vigil is now banned, students found a stealthy way to commemorate the anniversary.)

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