Mark Zuckerberg was excited to show off the new Facebook Spaces app Monday, a virtual-reality product that allows cartoon versions of yourself to wander in faraway places, so he decided to demonstrate with a "magical" tour—of hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico. "There's a lot of people who are using Spaces … to do interviews and Q&As in VR, and to go places that it wouldn't be possible to necessarily go or definitely would be a lot harder to go in real life," Zuckerberg explained during a meeting on the roof of Facebook HQ with Rachel Franklin, head of the company's social VR efforts, per Gizmodo. The two then "teleported" to different scenes on the ravaged island, courtesy of a 360-degree video shot by NPR, conversing in front of a flooded-out bridge, water-swamped streets, and people picking up garbage.
"I mean, can you guys, can you see this behind me, I mean this is what it looks like down here," Zuckerberg marveled, with Franklin responding: "It's crazy to feel like you're in the middle of it," all of which prompted a one-word response from Gizmodo: "Jeez." Others had more than one word to offer:
- CNBC notes Zuckerberg is being called a "heartless billionaire" who "[exploited] disaster" to hawk a product, with one commenter calling his endeavor "dude-bro passerby touristic voyeurism."
- The Guardian calls the promo for Spaces "bizarre" and "tone deaf," noting the "somber scenes of Puerto Rican devastation" around the avatars as they high-fived at one point in front of waterlogged homes.
- "Awkward" is how Mashable paints the "cringeworthy" 360-degree tour, though it also points out that Facebook has taken pains to help the island via a $1.5 million donation and employees sent to help with connectivity issues. Still, "plopping VR cartoons into a disaster zone and peppering the conversation with nervous laughter just feels ignorant."
- The Verge also tries to find something complimentary to say about Spaces itself, noting that "cartoon avatars make plenty of sense for the typical use" of the product. It adds, however, that it "clearly isn't an ideal way to discuss hurricane relief efforts, particularly for a Silicon Valley billionaire doing his best to stay in touch [with] Americans outside of the tech world."
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