Mark Zuckerberg 'tours' flooded Puerto Rico in bizarre virtual reality promo

The Facebook CEO’s cartoon avatar visited the hurricane-damaged island in a tone-deaf live stream that was part disaster tourism, part product promotion

A cartoon version of Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, visited hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico on Monday, in a tone-deaf live stream that was part disaster tourism, part product promotion.

Zuckerberg, along with Facebook’s head of social virtual reality, Rachel Franklin, appeared as avatars within the broadcast from his profile as they “teleported” to different locations using Facebook’s “social VR” tool Spaces. In reality, the two were speaking from the comfort of their offices in the company’s campus in Menlo Park, California, wearing virtual reality headsets.

“One of the things that’s really magical about VR is you can get the feeling you’re really in a place,” said Zuckerberg as his grinning avatar floated over scenes of flooding and destruction.

“Rachel and I aren’t even in the same building in the physical world, but it feels like we’re in the same place and can make eye contact,” he added before he and Rachel high-fived within the virtual space with the sombre scenes of Puerto Rican devastation around them.

Mark Zuckerberg ‘visiting’ Puerto Rico in the virtual reality promo.
Mark Zuckerberg ‘visiting’ Puerto Rico in the virtual reality promo. Photograph:

Zuckerberg took the opportunity to talk about some of the ways Facebook was helping with disaster relief, including donating $1.5m and working with the Red Cross to build “population maps” so that relief organizations know where the most help is needed.

“You can see that we can really feel like we’re here,” said Franklin.

“This street is really flooded,” added Mark.

After a moment of reflection, the pair decided to “teleport” back to California and switch gears to promote the company’s upcoming Oculus developer conference by showing a 360-degree video from the 2016 event. They then made a virtual journey to the moon, where Franklin marveled at the “absolutely lovely” view of the Milky Way.

The live stream briefly dropped after suffering a technical glitch, before a second one started. In the interim, Zuckerberg introduced an animated version of his dog Beast to the virtual space and he and Franklin took a selfie.

After taking some questions from the audience, the pair made their final trip to Zuckerberg’s living room, where their avatars were placed in a 360-video with a giant Beast.

Mark Zuckerberg showcasing the power of social VR with a giant video of his dog.
Mark Zuckerberg showcasing the power of social VR with a giant video of his dog. Photograph:

“It’s from the perspective where we’re tiny and Beast is huge,” said Zuckerberg, in between awkward laughs. “He’s a pretty small dog, he’s a 30lb dog, although more than 30lb of cute, and we’re kind of tiny.”

“This is one of the most exciting spaces for the future of social interaction,” he added.

After many people criticized the VR broadcast in the comments on his Facebook profile, Zuckerberg apologized.

“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world,” he said, adding that he also wanted to publicize Facebook’s partnership with the Red Cross.

“Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.”


Olivia Solon in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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