Zuckerberg taps VR to detail relief efforts in Puerto Rico


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has visited Puerto Rico in virtual reality.

"One of the things that's really magical about virtual reality is you can really get the feeling you're really in a place", said Zuckerberg - before high-fiving Franklin within the virtual space against a video backdrop showing flooded scenes of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Because that could actually be helpful?

From inside Facebook's Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Menlo Park, California, the two made a decision to "check out this interesting 360 video", as Zuckerberg described it, of the devastation in Puerto Rico. The live-stream saw Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, head of social VR at Facebook, represented as cartoon avatars in flooded areas of the USA territory, where citizens are still struggling to access clean water, electricity and other necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The smile on Zuckerberg's cartoon avatar as he spoke of the devastation and the work his company has done to help Puerto Ricans check in with loved ones, and to aid in reconnecting the country, completely undercut the gravity of the situation.

The rules of virtual reality are still being established, but here's an easy one: Don't use human disasters as a way to show off features of your VR product.

He also said that Facebook used satellite imagery to create so-called "population maps" that the Red Cross can use to see heavily populated areas and more quickly determine who needs help.

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"You can get a sense of some of the damage here that the hurricanes have done", Zuckerberg said through his 3D avatar during a live exhibition of the technology. Some other spots they "teleported" to included the surface of the moon and next to Zuckerberg's dog, Beast.

"This street is really flooded", added Zuckerberg.

Both Zuckerberg and Franklin were criticismed by viewers for the insensitivity of their comments and the presentation as a whole was called "passerby touristic voyeurism" by users on social media.

Zuckerberg also noted that Facebook had already donated more than $1 million to relief efforts. 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.