Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is in the firing line over a freakish livestream demo of the company's virtual reality (VR) products in which a cartoon version of the billionaire "visited" hurricane-hit Puerto Rico. "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?
Oculus is having its developer conference this week so it's not entirely out of left field, but seeing a cartoon avatar in the middle of an NPR-produced 360 video highlighting the situation in Puerto Rico while very real people walk around surveying the devastation of their homes perhaps wasn't the most appropriate choice. Both of the executives were demonstrating Facebook's Spaces virtual reality app in which people can chit-chat, play games, and interact with each other in digital worlds.
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. "It really feels like we're in Puerto Rico, and it's obviously a tough place to get to right now", Zuckerberg added.
The company activated community help "so if people could say they needed food or shelter people in the community could provide that", Zuckerberg said, without noting that without the internet it wouldn't work.
Facebook uses artificial intelligence to develop "population maps" to offer satellite imagery of a specific area. Not just the grinning Zuckerberg cartoon, but also a high-five moment between Franklin and Zuckerberg with tiresome scenes around was awkward.
Yes, Facebook's $1.5m donation to the Red Cross is commendable - then again, Jennifer Lopez gave $1m, and she hasn't had a hit song since 2014. It's bland, inoffensive, and set in an environment that's more suited to be shown off in Facebook Spaces - and for Zuck's, uh, unique brand of showmanship.
What should have been an informational Facebook Live session about the social media site's social VR tool Spaces ended up being a tone deaf display that some are calling disaster tourism. "That's going to help the Red Cross figure out where people are who need help".