Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes for 'Tone-Deaf' Virtual Trip to Puerto Rico
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized Tuesday after drawing criticism for live-streaming a video of him taking a virtual reality tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to promote a new Facebook feature.
The promotion showed 3-D cartoons of Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, from Facebook's virtual reality team, discussing their "amazing" new app, while news footage of flooded Puerto Rico rolled in the background.
Zuckerberg stumbled over references to the storm and never identified the hurricane by name.
"One of the things that's really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling that you're really in a place," the cartoon Zuckerberg said while video of flooded houses played in the background. "It feels like we're really here in Puerto Rico where it's obviously a tough place to get to now."
"Crazy to feel like you're in the middle of it," Franklin added.
Hurricane Maria, which resulted in at least 34 deaths, destroyed much of the island's infrastructure. Weeks after landfall, fewer than 1 in 8 residents of the island had electricity and barely more than half of the population had access to clean water.
During the video, which is just over nine minutes, he also announced a Facebook initiative to team with the American Red Cross to build population maps of Puerto Rico to guide relief organizations to areas where help is most needed.
Later in the video, the pair toured the surface of the moon using the virtual reality app.
Facebook Spaces is an app that allows users to create an avatar, or cartoon image, of themselves and then explore the Earth and beyond through a virtual reality headset. It allows users to navigate through areas they likely couldn't otherwise, such as flooded Puerto Rico or the moon.
It's similar to an immersive version of the Google Maps Street View.
Technology critics derided the video as an insensitive marketing stunt, calling it "tone-deaf," "incredible and not in a good way," and "the height of tastelessness."
Vanity Fair's Maya Kosoff called the video a "completely avoidable public-relations disaster."
But many Facebook users who commented on Zuckerberg's video post thanked him for both the initiative and the ability to see the damage caused by the hurricane.
"Thanks for sharing Mark. My entire family lives in PR!" wrote one Facebook user. Another said, "thank you for bringing light at what is going on in our beautiful island."
Zuckerberg responded to a comment on the post Tuesday, saying his goal was to show that virtual reality technology "can raise awareness and help us see what's happening in different parts of the world."
"I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery," he added. "Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended."
It marked the Facebook founder's second public apology in less than two weeks. On Sept. 30, the final day of the Jewish day of atonement known as Yom Kippur, he posted a short note to Facebook apologizing "for the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together."