Was Mark Zuckerberg’s Virtual Reality Tour Of Ravaged Puerto Rico Really Tasteless?

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showcased his company’s virtual reality (VR) system Monday by conducting a live-stream tour of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory recently ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

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.

“You can get a sense of some of the damage here that the hurricanes have done,” Zuckerberg said through his 3D avatar during a live exhibition of the technology. “I mean, one of the things that’s really magical about virtual reality is that you can get the feeling that you’re really in a place … You know, it feels like we’re really here in Puerto Rico, where it’s obviously a tough place to get into now, and a lot of people are really suffering with the aftermath of the hurricanes.”

Zuckerberg explained how his social media conglomerate implements safety measures and features during natural disasters like the most recent hurricanes affecting Houston, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean Islands. He also described in-house and external fundraising efforts and how Facebook employees traveled to Puerto Rico to help residents regain connectivity to the internet. (RELATED: Zuckerberg Uses Virtual Reality To Put You Inside A Prison)

Most notably, the entrepreneurial wunderkind detailed how they have been teaming up with the Red Cross by building artificial intelligence which help create population maps, and thus can efficiently allocate resources and assistance. VR, like the system he and Franklin demonstrated, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, so Zuckerberg asserts that such a system may be helpful to the relief aid.

But a number of people on the internet, including certain media outlets, are arguing that Zuckerberg’s attempt at highlighting his company’s advanced technology was tasteless, even offensive.

Olivia Solon of The Guardian called it a “tone-deaf livestream that was part disaster tourism, part product promotion.”

The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes described it as a “rather strange demo of a social platform that doesn’t have a clear use yet,” adding that Zuckerberg as a cartoon avatar “clearly isn’t an ideal way to discuss hurricane relief efforts.”

“The whole thing is a tonal mess resembling nothing more than rubbernecking and disaster tourism,” wrote Tom McKay of Gizmodo.

Alison Main of Mashable said “Zuckerberg sending his cartoon avatar to the ravaged streets of Puerto Rico” was a “tone-deaf misstep,” and that “he capitalized on a natural disaster to promote his company’s new tech.”

“The whole thing just felt … awkward,” she added. (RELATED: Founder Of Facebook Virtual Reality Branch Dumped A Bunch of Money Into Trump’s Inauguration)

CNBC reporter Arjun Kharpal noted several Twitter users’ disgust of the spectacle in an article titled “Critics blast Facebook’s Zuckerberg for ‘magical’ virtual reality tour of Puerto Rico devastation.”

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