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Zuckerberg 'sorry' for controversial VR tour of Puerto Rico

The Facebook CEO apologizes to anyone he might've offended when he tried to show how VR could help raise awareness of the hurricane-ravaged island's plight.

Mark Zuckerberg apologized Tuesday for a controversial virtual reality tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico that he posted to Facebook earlier this week.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for his VR tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, which featured cartoonlike avatars of Zuckerberg, left, and fellow Facebook exec Rachel Franklin.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for his VR tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, which featured cartoonlike avatars of Zuckerberg, left, and fellow Facebook exec Rachel Franklin.

Screenshot by CNET

The Facebook CEO said he didn't mean to offend anyone with the tour, posted Monday, which showed him as an animated avatar alongside the social network's virtual reality head, Rachel Franklin. The two demonstrated Facebook's VR tool Spaces and discussed the social network's partnership with NetHope and the American Red Cross. Zuckerberg was also promoting Facebook's Oculus Connect 4 VR conference, which starts Wednesday. 

Some people criticized Zuckerberg for the tone of the tour, which juxtaposed cartoony figures and cheery banter with the storm that severely damaged Puerto Rico late last month, killing more than 30 people and leaving scores of others without essential utilities. During the VR tour, Zuckerberg described how virtual reality is "magical," with the ability to virtually teleport people to disaster areas.

Others accused the CEO of exploiting the tragedy to publicize his products. And some Facebook users criticized Zuckerberg after he apparently forgot the name of Hurricane Maria.

In his apology, Zuckerberg said one of VR's most powerful features 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," he said. "Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended."

One Facebook user, Maria Mangiarelli Ripp, chided Zuckerberg on Monday, saying, "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."

Zuckerberg replied, "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."

Facebook didn't respond to a request for further comment.