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Zuckerberg Apologizes for Tone-Deaf Puerto Rico VR Tour

Mark Zuckerberg's latest attempt to promote virtual reality through Facebook isn't sitting well with everyone, and for that he's sorry.

On Tuesday, the Facebook CEO issued an apology for a controversial virtual reality tour he gave of the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico that was streamed live on the social media site the day before.

The tour, which showed a cartoon-like avatar of Zuckerberg visiting flooded areas of the island, was meant to demonstrate how virtual reality can raise public awareness about the crisis there. However, some internet users accused Zuckerberg of exploiting the disaster to market the company's technology.

"This isn't helping the other people. This is just showing off!!! Not cool!!!" wrote one Facebook user.

In response, Zuckerberg took to the comment section of his official Facebook page, which hosts the video of the VR tour. "My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what's happening in different parts of the world," he wrote. "Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended."

The virtual tour was done over Facebook Spaces, which lets users interact with each other in 3D-environments. A beta version is already available, but users must own the company's Oculus Rift product.

Although the Oculus Rift is best known as a virtual reality gaming headset, Facebook has been trying to expand its use outside of entertainment purposes. However, Zuckerberg's virtual reality of hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico—which at times showed his cartoon avatar appearing to smile—may have not been the best test case.

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg wrote on Tuesday that one of the most powerful features of VR is "empathy."


"When you're in VR yourself, the surroundings feel quite real," he wrote. "But that sense of empathy doesn't extend well to people watching you as a virtual character on a 2D screen."

During the virtual tour, Zuckerberg also announced his company was helping the American Red Cross to direct aid efforts in Puerto Rico by using artificial intelligence. Others in Siicon Valley, like Tesla founder Elon Musk and Alphabet's Project Loon, are also trying to help the island recover through new technologies.

On Wednesday, Facebook will also be holding its annual Oculus Connect conference in San Jose, California to announce new developments around its virtual reality projects. PCMag will be there, so stay tuned for coverage.

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