NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Facebook’s virtual reality tour of post-hurricane Puerto Rico was meant to raise awareness for relief efforts, but the cartoon nature of the experience set off a backlash that has the social media giant on the defensive.
“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy,” posted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “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.”
Users joinging Facebook’s VR app Spaces were able to view a 360-degree video of Puerto Rico, where much of the island is still lacking power, clean water and access to telecommunications. However, the virtual avatars of zuckerberg and others presented as happy cartoon cutouts – a stark contrast the real photography by National Public Radio shown in the background.
Facebook said the company is working to restore internet connectivity on the island and has donated money to the relief effort.
New Yorkers and people in the Tri-State area responded to the crisis by sending emergency response volunteers, food and water and survival supplies to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria’s landfall.