Opinion

Zuckerberg’s insensitive VR joyride around Puerto Rico is disgusting to watch

By Oliver Smith 10 October 2017
Summary

High-fiving outside flooded homes isn’t even the worst part.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance in a cartoonish virtual reality ‘tour’ of the devastated island of Puerto Rico isn’t just tone-deaf and insensitive – it also shows just how out-of-touch the entrepreneur has become.

As the island nation and US territory of Puerto Rico continues to grapple with the fallout from Hurricane Maria, there have been some brilliant displays of corporate aid.

Verizon and Walmart have donated $5m each, Santander gave $2m, and other companies have helped raise $32.9m for the people of Puerto Rico, who are expected to be without power until 2018 (unless Elon Musk can help it).

However, Zuckerberg high-fiving Facebook’s social VR chief Rachel Franklin in front of a 360° video of Puerto Rico’s flooded homes, all while extolling the virtues of VR to meet up with friends, is simply infuriating to watch.

Tone-deafening

“One of the things that’s really magical about virtual reality is that you get the feeling that you’re really in a real place,” he chipperly explains, pointing out the devastation around him.

For a man with presidential aspirations, it’s nearly as insensitive as the actual President’s middling interest in the disaster.

“It feels like we’re really here in Puerto Rico, which is obviously a tough place to get to now, in the aftermath of the hurricanes.”

Yes Mark, because it’s been crippled by the worst hurricane in 89 years, but what are you doing to help?

At this point Zuckerberg maybe realises that prancing around in cartoonish virtual reality might be perceived as insensitive, so he’s quick to point out Facebook’s ‘aid’ efforts.

Who are you really helping?

Yes, Facebook’s $1.5m donation to the Red Cross is commendable – then again, Jennifer Lopez gave $1m, and she hasn’t had a hit song since 2014.

Zuckerberg’s also sent a team of Facebook engineers to the island to help people get “connected”… which we can only assume means, get back on Facebook.

“Facebook is very focused on trying to help out in the recovery effort,” he repeats.

By which, he means Facebook has turned on Safety Check, to let users ‘check-in’ to Puerto Rico and indicate they’re alive, and ‘Community Help’ so that locals can post on Facebook if they need food, shelter or urgent medical attention.

After seven minutes in “virtual Puerto Rico reality”, Mark’s getting kinda bored now.

“Yeah, it’s really crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it… right, do you wanna teleport somewhere else?”

I think I do Mark, somewhere where corporate CEOs aren’t so tone-deaf.