Mark Zuckerberg has apologized, in a Facebook comment, for his recent virtual reality tour of Puerto Rico.
The Facebook CEO used the VR session to discuss Facebook’s relief efforts for Puerto Rico, which is recovering from Hurricane Maria, but his smiling avatar superimposed over the island’s ravaged streets did not sit well with everyone.
“It seems it would be way more effective if we could see your real faces. It is so distracting to have virtual characters reporting on a real disaster,” one commenter said on Facebook.
A few hours later, Zuckerberg responded to that comment.
“I hear that. When you’re in VR yourself, the surroundings feel quite real. But that sense of empathy doesn’t extend well to people watching you as a virtual character on a 2D screen. That’s something we’ll need to work on over time.”
And in another reply on Facebook, Zuckerberg said he was sorry for offending anyone with the video.
“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. 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. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended,” he wrote.
That’s one of the problems of virtual reality — being inside and looking at it from the outside are two vastly different experiences, and despite’s Facebook’s efforts in the space, VR is still far from commonplace. There’s no reason to assume Zuckerberg didn’t mean well, and Facebook’s efforts to help Puerto Rico are commendable. But cartoonish VR was not the right platform to raise awareness of Puerto Rico’s plight.