Talking about a humanitarian crisis requires prudence and precision.
That’s what Mark Zuckerberg learned the hard way after a virtual reality
“tour” landed the CEO in hot water. The tour featured Facebook’s VR app
“Spaces,” and showed a laughing Zuckerberg avatar straddling flooded
streets and exclaiming how real everything looked.
Zuck’s cartoon avatar directed attention towards various features of Puerto
Rico’s destruction while another Facebook executive remarked “it’s crazy to
feel like you’re in the middle of it.”
“Do you want to teleport somewhere else?” Zuckerberg’s VR avatar asked as
he wrapped up his conversation about Puerto Rico. “Yeah maybe back to
California?” another executive answered.
The video was panned on social media.
Mark Zuckerberg talks about the dire situation in Puerto Rico as an AR toon.
“Crazy to feel like we’re in the middle of it.”
End me. pic.twitter.com/a7mOoCIlHC
— Scream Porg 😱 (@GenePark) October 9, 2017
Mark Zuckerberg & friend “visit” Puerto Rico as VR cartoons.
“Crazy to feel like we’re in the middle of it.”
Zuck hasn’t cracked human code. pic.twitter.com/DjkuTRiB3e
— Paul Sacca (@Paul_Sacca) October 10, 2017
i like the idea of viewing 360 vids in VR with other people but umm hey zuck? maybe don’t high five in flooded puerto rico pic.twitter.com/qm8Ut8msSw
— Jonaghoul Parghost (@FirstChairSax) October 10, 2017
Zuckerberg has apologized.
After many commenters pointed out how offensive his VR tour was, Zuck
issued an apology in the comments:
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
He also added:
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.
Some noted that Facebook was bringing continued coverage to Puerto Rico,
keeping people engaged on
an issue with waning media interest.
Despite the criticism, many others on Facebook applauded Zuckerberg for
keeping Puerto Rico relevant to audiences and for the
$1.5 million he says the company
has donated to help relief efforts there.
“Thank you again for all your financial help. You have demonstrated in so
many way how humanity is important to you,”
Zuckerberg also used the presentation to promote Facebook’s partnership
with the Red Cross using technology to help relief efforts.
Though few doubt Zuckerberg’s intentions, his livestream left him open to
criticism and failed to communicate his desired message.
Here are some ways he could have avoided this gaffe:
Make sure your dry run explores more than just tech.
Surely Facebook checked its software before broadcasting a virtual reality
session with the chief executive and the SVP of Social VR. Still, it’s hard
to believe a dry run of the webcast wouldn’t have raised red flags about
sensibilities for the communications team.
“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.
If Facebook had broadcast a VR session to a test audience, someone might
have noticed the inappropriate nature of the cartoonish avatars.
Always prep your spokespeople.
There should have been a pre-broadcast discussion about tone. The Facebook
executives were caught up in the realness of the technology but failed to
strike the right tone when discussing the calamity in Puerto Rico. The
painful jokes and high-fives could have been avoided if the principals had
been advised be more reserved.
When newsjacking, the news should lead.
It’s a common practice to co-opt a news story to juice a product or brand.
However, if the campaign doesn’t lead with the news item, like a company’s
response to a natural disaster, the company appears to exploit tragic
circumstances for financial gain.
Instead of focusing on Facebook’s efforts to aid the island, the livestream
focused on Facebook’s virtual reality platform.
Many wan apologies contain the phrase “not our intention” or “to anyone it
might have offended.” This language frames the apology as insincere.
Zuckerberg should have admitted fault instead of talking about his
intentions. (No one doubted his intentions. People make mistakes and
Facebook will misstep again as it continues to pioneer new technology. What
critics wanted to know was that they were heard and that Facebook would try
to learn from its mistakes.
How would you have worded Facebook’s apology, PRDaily readers?