Zuckerberg Slammed for Tone-Deaf Virtual-Reality Tour of Devastated Puerto Rico

Allan Goodman
October 11, 2017

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showcased his company's virtual reality (VR) system Monday by conducting a live-stream tour of Puerto Rico, a US territory recently ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Because that could actually be helpful? (In a less generous light, it's a weird tech demo done as disaster tourism.) But Zuck and his PR team should have just done with the second Facebook Spaces video he posted that day - he, Rubin, and a digital avatar of his dog Beast floating in outer space.

Using the VR platform known as Facebook Spaces to transport himself to Puerto Rico, Zuckerberg and social VR chief Rachel Franklin discussed the wonders of their technology, including its proprietary Oculus Rift headset. "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", said Zuckerberg, before sharing what must be one of the most inappropriate high-fives of all time with Franklin, as their avatars stood in front of a flooded home.

"That's going to help the Red Cross figure out where people are who need help", he said.

But the video is also cringeworthy: Zuck stops in front of an image of a flooded street and observes "this street is completely flooded", prompting Rubin to say "It's insane to feel like you are here". The company is taking help of artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to determine areas to provide aid. They later visited the virtual moon, but not until a technical glitch interrupted transmissions and kicked them back into reality for a while.

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Facebook uses artificial intelligence to develop "population maps" to offer satellite imagery of a specific area. Irrespective of how weird the space avatar of Zuckerberg acted or looked in the flooded area, Facebook has been generously donating to help the affected Puerto Rico areas. When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, it took out the island's entire electric grid, cutting both communications and access to drinking water.

Yes, Facebook's $1.5m donation to the Red Cross is commendable - then again, Jennifer Lopez gave $1m, and she hasn't had a hit song since 2014.

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

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