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Facebook says it 'failed' by presenting VR shooting demo at CPAC

Commentary: The social network removes the game and acknowledges it should have reconsidered presenting it at the big conservative conference.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Screenshot of a tweet that shows a photo of the demo

Not the best idea?

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Facebook has managed to step into controversy again.

The social network has recently been besieged with criticism from all corners about the role it plays in public discourse and how it addresses those problems.

It promised to do better.

Yet at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of activists and elected officials, the company managed to show off its wares in a way that might seem painfully jarring. 

For at the conference, held in National Harbor, Maryland, was a VR shooting game demo by Facebook-owned Oculus. The game, called Bullet Train and developed by Epic Games, involves shooting bad guys before they shoot you.

It was captured in action by Sean Morrow of video site NowThis

Having fun killing people, even virtually, seems the height of ill judgment after 17 students were shot dead, allegedly by a 19-year-old man, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

Facebook's VP of VR, Hugo Barra, appears now to agree. 

In an email, he said that a "standard set of experiences" is included in Oculus demos at public events. Some of the action games, he acknowledged, can include violence.

"In light of the recent events in Florida and out of respect for the victims and their families, we have removed them from this demo," Barra said. "We regret that we failed to do so in the first place."

Some, though, might think CPAC an entirely appropriate venue for such a demo. 

After all, it's the place where Wayne LaPierre, CEO of gun industry lobbying group the National Rifle Association, finds one of his most sympathetic audiences.

For others, though, a shooting game might immediately suggest a remarkable lack of taste, tact and awareness.

On Thursday, Donald Trump himself ventured that video games may be one of the causes of young men's violence. Yet researchers continue to debate the issue.

Still, there's data, and there's human feelings, It's a distinction that Facebook has occasionally had trouble making. 

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