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Watching the Facebook Hearing in VR Was a Special Kind of Dystopia

AltspaceVR offered robots and humanoids the chance to watch democracy in action from the comfort of a virtual penthouse.
Image: Jason Koebler

Wednesday, the world watched Mark Zuckerberg try to explain Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica disaster to Congress. I tuned in as well, except I watched the testimony as a bright blue robot in Virtual Reality.

AltspaceVR, a social VR platform, hosted a viewing party that was kind of like going to a friend’s house if your friends consisted of robots and standing on couches was socially acceptable. Once connected, I was teleported to a highrise penthouse with a massive flat screen TV, wood floors, and a circular grey sofa couch. The TV in the room streamed the live video and audio of Zuckerberg’s testimony from PBS.


I was one of about 20 crudely designed robots and humans watching the Facebook CEO. In addition to being able to teleport around the room and interact with other avatars using emojis, everyone in the virtual room could also speak. While nobody held a full conversation while I was in the room, people did use the tool to comment on Zuckerberg’s responses and yell at each other.

“Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company,” Zuckerberg began to say before being cut off by a VR avatar.

“Bullshit,” the user shouted through a fake cough.

Image: Jason Koebler

Not all of the reactions were negative though. Early during his prepared statement, Zuckerberg issued an apology to those who had unwittingly had their data shared by Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg said, “I’m sorry,” and was met by a flood of clapping emojis from several avatars near me. A robot avatar with a propeller on his head even offered up a heart emoji.

Others seemed more interested in exploring the nooks and crannies of the virtual penthouse. Like watching a regular TV, it was tough to know what was going on unless you were standing right in front of it.

Of course, while the virtual reality backdrop succeeded in lightening the mood, the medium certainly has its shortcomings.

As California Senator Dianne Feinstein addressed Zuckerberg, one of the legless robots started yelling, “HEY! HEY AHHHH,” to which another person in the lobby promptly administered a curt shushing.

The annoying rumbling continued and ended about the same time as Feinstein stopped speaking, leaving a brief silence broken up only by Zuckerberg’s rapid fire blinking.

“I don’t understand anything,” one of the avatars said. Same.