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Mark Zuckerberg will try to draw attention back to Facebook's VR technology

  • Mark Zuckerberg will demonstrate how Facebook's virtual-reality technology can be shared among users, after a preview faced criticism.
  • The Facebook CEO will give the keynote at the Oculus Spaces 4 event in San Jose, California.
  • The speech will be his first since apologizing for playing down Facebook's role in the 2016 U.S. election.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the "Spaces" virtual reality product to transport his 3-D avatar to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico.
Facebook 2017
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the "Spaces" virtual reality product to transport his 3-D avatar to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico.

Mark Zuckerberg is delivering a keynote speech at the company's annual conference on virtual reality Wednesday. At least part of it will be focused on how Facebook users can share its VR technology.

Yet he may be hard-pressed to keep broad attention focused solely on hardware and software after a preview of the demonstration — seen by more than 2 million people — was criticized for its blithe treatment of Puerto Rico hurricane victims.

"Now we're in a 360-degree video in Puerto Rico. We're on a bridge, it's flooded. You can get a sense here of the damage that the hurricanes have done," Zuckerberg said during the demo, as a VR avatar based on his likeness seemed to float on a flooded street corner.

"It feels like we're really here in Puerto Rico," added Rachel Franklin, Facebook's head of social VR, as she stood on the company's campus thousands of miles away from the island, where millions are hungry and living without power.

The backlash, which prompted an apology from Zuckerberg, shows how more people on Facebook are judging the service not just by its features but for how its technology is used.

"I'm sorry to anyone this offended," the Facebook co-founder and CEO wrote in reply to a comment posted on the video, meant to highlight the ability to blend the virtual and real worlds in a live webcast.

It was the second public apology in less than a month from the world's fifth-richest person, who on Sept. 21 said he was sorry for playing down Facebook's role in the 2016 U.S. election.

It came as two congressional committees await Nov. 1 testimony from the company and its rivals on how Russian agents used its ads to sway U.S. voters during the campaign.

At the Oculus Connect 4 show in San Jose, California, Zuckerberg will try to turn the focus back onto Facebook's technology.

"We have some fun and big announcements we're pretty excited about," Zuckerberg said later during the webcast.

Those will include updates on the company's "mixed-reality" VR video, which "splices real and virtual elements together," Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell said at an earlier media event.

The show will also highlight the "social features" of Oculus, including the ability to livestream a VR video on Facebook.

Facebook executives are also expected to demonstrate VR software titles that use handheld controllers, called Oculus Touch, that the company is now bundling with its headset.