Natural disasters and corporate product demos do not mix.
On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promoted Facebook’s new Spaces app, which allows users to remotely cast cartoon avatars of themselves walking around locations in the real world.
This is pretty exciting news in the world of tech, except it’s being overshadowed by the fact that Zuckerberg took a tour of the devastated island of Puerto Rico in order to show users the “magic” of the app.
The demo has repeatedly been called “tone deaf,” since Zuckerberg and Facebook’s head of social virtual reality, Rachel Franklin, were showing their avatars smiling and high-fiving against a backdrop of flooded areas and people cleaning up debris.
While Zuckerberg’s intentions may have been good — trying to demo a cool piece of technology while raising awareness for an important cause — the way the demo was executed was not well-received.
Donning an Oculus Rift, Zuckerberg attempted to explain how Spaces related to the company’s relief efforts after major disasters. “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,” he said on Facebook Live.
But in one off-key moment, after mentioning the damage left behind by the hurricane, Zuckerberg, appearing on a rubble-lined bridge, says, "One of the things that’s really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling that you’re really in a place."
In fairness, Zuckerberg also mentioned how Spaces has been teaming up with the American Red Cross and NetHope to help build population maps with satellite imagery to help direct rescuers and aid workers to areas where resources were most needed.
The demo then awkwardly segued away from Puerto Rico and back to the presentation floor in California. Some other spots they “teleported” to included the surface of the moon and next to Zuckerberg’s dog, Beast.