Zuckerberg criticised following virtual tour of Puerto Rico

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing criticism after he used the social networks Spaces virtual reality platform to tour hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Online users have called Zuckerberg a “heartless billionaire” and accused him of “exploiting disaster” after a presentation which was hosted on his Facebook page. The live-stream saw Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, head of social VR at Facebook, represented as cartoon avatars in flooded areas of the US territory, where citizens are still struggling to access clean water, electricity and other necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Zuckerberg used the live-stream to announce a partnership between Facebook and the Red Cross. The tech giant is using artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to help pinpoint areas of the island most in need of assistance.

“We use artificial intelligence to build what we call population maps so you can look at satellite imagery of an area and get a sense of where it is that people actually live and the density of different places and where theres infrastrucutre going to in those places,” said Zuckerberg. “Thats going to help the Red Cross figure out where people are who need help.”

Zuckerberg also noted that Facebook had already donated more than $1m (£758,000) to relief efforts on the island, and had deployed several employees to the scene to help restore connectivity and support communications.

However, Zuckerberg attracted considerable criticism for the live-stream, which was dubbed a “corporate stunt” by social media users. During the video, Zuckerberg said “One of the things thats really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling that youre really in a place.” Franklin responded by saying it was “crazy to feel like youre in the middle of it.”

Both Zuckerberg and Franklin were criticismed by viewers for the insensitivity of their comments and the presentation as a whole was called “passerby touristic voyeurism” by users on social media.

The use of the Spaces platform comes ahead of Oculus Connect, Facebooks annual Oculus developer conference. Zuckerberg has championed VR as the future of education, entertainment and business, and acquired Oculus for $2bn back in 2014.

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