Zuckerberg's virtual tour of devastated Puerto Rico strikes an awkward tone

Image Screengrab via Facebook

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has visited Puerto Rico in virtual reality.

"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 avatar floated above the scenes of abject devastation below. Because that could actually be helpful?

"We're in a 360 video in Puerto Rico. we're on a bridge here, it's flooded", grinning cartoon Zuckerberg said in the Facebook Live video.

Along with Facebook's head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, Zuckerberg's avatar was imposed over a 360-degree video from NPR that showed the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Both of the executives were demonstrating Facebook's Spaces virtual reality app in which people can chit-chat, play games, and interact with each other in digital worlds. "It's flooded. You can get a sense of some of the damage here that hurricane - that the hurricanes have done". Importantly, Zuck also highlighted that Facebook donated $1.5 million to relief efforts and sent a number of employees down to the island to help ensure that networks were up so that relief efforts could be coordinated more easily.

The Facebook CEO said that the company is working with the American Red Cross to aid efforts in the affected areas using satellite imagery and artificial intelligence. "The very bad taste of this demo shows how far out of his depth Zuckerberg is running Facebook", one Twitter user said.

The rules of virtual reality are still being established, but here's an easy one: Don't use human disasters as a way to show off features of your VR product. Zuckerberg stated that "population maps" have been drawn up with the help of artificial intelligence, showing the satellite imagery and the places where the individuals are living who need help.

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg referenced the company's efforts in activating functionality like Safety Check so people could alert FB friends that they were safe, while also utilizing Community Help feature to help organize aid efforts in Puerto Rico.

The Facebook CEO noted that Internet connectivity is crucial for people caught in the middle of such situations so that they can convey messages with their loved ones.

Needless to say, many weren't happy with the use of disaster relief to sell a product.

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