Zuckerberg apologizes for poorly-received virtual reality video in Puerto Rico

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized Tuesday for what critics called a “tasteless” unveiling of his platform’s new virtual reality application, in a video featuring the destroyed streets of Puerto Rico.

Zuckerberg intended to show how his virtual reality application could help agents from the Red Cross and other charitable organizations better assess the damage from afar, and used the unveiling of the technology to announce Facebook’s partnership with the Red Cross and NetHope.

The video featured VR avatars of himself and his head of social virtual reality, Rachel Adams, walking and talking through Puerto Rico’s streets and even giving each other a high-five.

Commenters on the live-stream unveiling took issue with the cartoonish, jubilant tone exuded in the virtual nature of the video, and thought it downplayed the seriousness of the plight of Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

One user noted the video was the “height of tastelessness,” while another said Mr. Zuckerberg “should be ashamed.”

Others called the video “tone-deaf” and “incredible and not in a good way.”

Alexander J. Perez complained on Facebook: “Ok? You are joking about the People of Puerto Rico??? What’s wrong with you people???? This is not a game dude it’s serious.”

And on Twitter, @basecreative wrote: “Not sure this is the best idea Mark Zuckerberg has ever had! Seems very tasteless.”

In his apology, Zuckerberg attempted to explain how virtual reality is, in fact, one of the platform’s most powerful features, but that it still needs a lot of work.

“My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended,” the CEO said.

He continued, “When you’re in VR yourself, the surroundings feel quite real. But that sense of empathy doesn’t extend well to people watching you as a virtual character on a 2D screen. That’s something we’ll need to work on over time.”

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