Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Accused Of Exploiting Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Effort For Weak VR Demo

Mark Zuckerberg VR

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is catching heat on social media for what some have called a "disgusting" exploitation of the disaster in Puerto Rico to promote his company's virtual reality efforts. The "corporate stunt," as one Twitter user put it, was a demonstration of Facebook Spaces, a service that allows users to create a 3D virtual avatar of themselves to use with Oculus Rift, and communicate with other VR users.

The nearly 10-minute video begins with Zuckerberg and Facebook's head of social VR Rachel Dwyer shown perched atop Facebook's headquarters as they chitchat about VR. Less than a minute into the video, Zuckerberg excitedly says, "This is a big week for virtual reality," noting that Facebook's Oculus Connect 4 event in San Jose is coming up and that Facebook will be announcing some new things.
Around two minutes into the video, Zuckerberg and Dwyer teleport into Puerto Rico, with the devastation caused by the hurricanes in full display in the background. Zuckerberg muses that "one of the things that is really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling you are really in a place." There is laughter and lighthearted bantering between the two, which from the outside looking in feels awkwardly out of place—the two are giggling over the wonders of VR as they stand amid a flooded town, at one point giving each other a high-five.

Live from virtual reality -- teleporting to Puerto Rico to discuss our partnership with NetHope and American Red Cross to restore connectivity and rebuild communities.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, October 9, 2017

"This is cute, but not appropriate IMO. But then, I'm 'older' than most of the audience. I don't appreciate the method of communication," a Facebook user wrote in the comment section of Zuckerberg's VR video demonstration. Another user commented, "Amazing technology but still very awkward. What you're talking about is much more meaningful. I feel like the cartoony graphics belittle that."
To be fair to Zuckerberg, his intentions were not to belittle the horrible destruction in Puerto Rico. Halfway through the video, he announces a new effort with the Red Cross that uses satellite data to identify areas in Puerto Rico that need the most help. It is an example of using "AI and machine learning to help out and save people's lives." He also notes that there is "so much more that is needed" in Puerto Rico, and talked about features such as Safety Check, which allows Facebook users to mark themselves as safe during disasters in and around their physical location.

Where things fall apart is in the execution. Even accounting for the hypersensitivity that exists on social media, the video demo comes off as being in poor taste with too much promotion and an overly excited tone. That would be acceptable in a different setting, but not when plopped into flooded terrain in a location that was ravaged by a hurricane. We suspect Zuckerberg would like to have a mulligan on this one.