Backlash grows against Zuckerberg stunt

Damp squib: It is "really flooded", Zuckerberg said from the safety of his office. © Facebook

Could virtual reality make us nicer? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for a "tasteless" VR video of him touring flooded Puerto Rican streets in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Yesterday, Facebook users slammed Mark Zuckerberg as “pathetic” and “deluded”. Why? Because he used virtual reality to “visit” hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

A video posted to his 97m followers showed a cartoon version of himself exploring the island’s ruined streets. Zuckerberg the person was on dry land in California, viewing the scene from a headset.

Many were appalled at his insensitivity. Whilst in front of a wrecked bridge, Zuckerberg’s grinning avatar declared how “magical” virtual reality was.

Zuckerberg apologised for the video, writing that he was ”sorry to anyone offended”. But he defended virtual reality because of its power to create “empathy”.

Journalist Jennifer Alsever claims that virtual reality is the “ultimate empathy machine”. New headsets allow able-bodied individuals to experience disability, and people to explore far-away countries — all without leaving their own home.

For some, this breaking down of boundaries creates compassion. The 2015 film Clouds over Sidra, used virtual reality to show life from the perspective of a refugee. A fundraiser that exhibited the film raised $3.8 billion.

Zuckerberg’s Puerto Rico trip was partly an attempt to create empathy for those suffering. But for some it did more harm than good.

Will virtual reality change the world for the better?

Step into my shoes

“No, virtual reality is just virtual empathy,” argue some. Simply exploring the sights of a refugee camp does not reflect the horrors of losing your home. These experiences trick people into thinking they are doing good. They achieve nothing.

“Virtual reality will connect us in wondrous ways,” counter others. Fundamentally, it shows us that there is more than one way of seeing the world. And this can only lead to greater understanding and greater compassion.

You Decide

  1. If you could use virtual reality to travel to any place in the world, where would it be?

Activities

  1. Write down as many uses of virtual reality as you can in one minute. Compare with the class.

Some People Say...

“Virtual reality does nothing to increase our empathy.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that 11m virtual reality devices were sold in 2016. However, the majority of these were low cost smartphone viewers which hold phones close to the users’ eyes.
What do we not know?
We do not know if the virtual reality device market will grow in the future, and if so, to what extent. It has not been proved that virtual reality has the ability to increase empathy.

Word Watch

Avatar
An icon or a figure representing a particular person in a video game or simulation.
Disability
Researchers at Stanford University are conducting a long running study involving virtual reality and disability. In one study they found that seeing the world through the eyes of a colour-blind person, made participants more likely to assist partially sighted people.
Clouds over Sidra
The film was directed by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora. It was produced in partnership with the United Nations to draw attention to the Syrian refugee crisis.

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