Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Tuesday after his promotion of the company’s new virtual reality platform via a digital jaunt through hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico came under fire.
Some critics said the live-stream “tour” was exploitative and akin to disaster tourism.
“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy,” the 33-year-old CEO said. “My goal here was to show how VR 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.”
On Monday, Zuckerberg’s cartoon avatar toured Puerto Rico—along with Facebook’s head of social VR Rachel Franklin—to demonstrate the company’s new social app, Facebook Spaces. Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 18 that lashed the island just two weeks after another catastrophic hurricane made landfall. Almost 84% of the island remains without electricity and 37% have no access to drinkable water.
Zuckerberg’s comments in the promotional live-stream also drew fire. After surveying some of the flood damage, he said: “one of the things that’s really magical about VR is that you can get the feeling you’re really in a place.” At one point in the video, Zuckerberg and Franklin’s avatars high-five with flooded Puerto Rican homes in the background.
While the live-stream was hit with criticism, Facebook has earned plaudits for its donations to the recovery efforts. The company gave $1.5 million to support relief work being done by the World Food Program and Net Hope, a consortium representing dozens of nonprofits and tech companies. Facebook also sent a “connectivity team” to supply emergency telecommunications support after the hurricane knocked out most of the island’s communications.