Zuckerberg's insensitive VR joyride around Puerto Rico is disgusting to watch

11 October, 2017, 00:25 | Author: Pamela Mathis
  • Zuckerberg with Puerto Ricans washing their clothes in a river behind him

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and head of social VR Rachel Rubin made a decision to show off one of the "really neat" features of Facebook Spaces, the company's social virtual-reality platform, and used a 360-degree video shot by NPR of the storm-ravaged nation of Puerto Rico as a backdrop for their VR hangout. During the video, Zuckerberg said "One of the things that's really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling that you're really in a place". Because that could actually be helpful?

By which, he means Facebook has turned on Safety Check, to let users "check-in" to Puerto Rico and indicate they're alive, and "Community Help" so that locals can post on Facebook if they need food, shelter or urgent medical attention.

"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". The live-stream saw Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, head of social VR at Facebook, represented as cartoon avatars in flooded areas of the USA territory, where citizens are still struggling to access clean water, electricity and other necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. "It's flooded. You can get a sense of some of the damage here that hurricane - that the hurricanes have done".

Facebook is working with the Red Cross to use artificial intelligence to build population maps, where satellite survey of the area will show where people live and the density of the infrastructure, "to help responders figure out where people need help the most".

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.

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The demo has repeatedly been called "tone deaf", since Zuckerberg and Facebook's head of social virtual reality, Rachel Franklin, were showing their avatars smiling and high-fiving against a backdrop of flooded areas and people cleaning up debris.

The internet was quick to criticize the PR stunt, as well as defend what Facebook has done for the region-the company has donated $1.5 million to relief funds on top of its connectivity efforts.

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 team will help to increase coordination in relief efforts.

"We've tried to do this a couple of times in the past but this is an example of how you can use AI and machine learning to help out in savings people's lives and help out in relief efforts", Zuckerberg said.

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