A Facebook virtual reality presentation blasted by multiple critics as “tone-deaf” prompted an apology from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday after it jarringly juxtaposed video-game-style avatars with live images of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and actual survivors.
Zuckerberg said missing from his presentation was a sense of empathy meant to raise awareness and spread the news about the company’s partnership with the Red Cross for recovery efforts.
“I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook comment posted below the video on Tuesday.
“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,” he said in another comment.
What prompted outrage and criticism a day earlier was a cartoonish depiction of himself and Rachel Franklin, the company’s head of social virtual reality, taking a virtual reality tour of flooded areas of Puerto Rico.
“It’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it,” a grinning avatar of Zuckerberg quipped during Monday’s presentation broadcast on Facebook Live to promote the company’s virtual reality “Spaces.” At one point, his avatar high-fived the avatar for Franklin.
Neither Zuckerberg nor Franklin were ever physically present in Puerto Rico.