Facebook has faced criticism this week after news that it promoted a virtual reality shooting game set in a public train station, on its stand at a US conservatives' event.
Clearly, in the light of the latest mass school shooting incident in Florida where a gunman killed 17 victims, it appeared to be a poor decision by Facebook to take the ‘Bullet Train’ game to the event.
The game, which Facebook says is a free title first unveiled in 2015, and was bundled with a number of other VR demos at the event, allows the player to shoot imaginary weapons against enemies in the setting of a public train station.
Adding to the weight of Facebook's criticism for the game being aired is the fact that the event was a rightwing, CPAC conference where the National Rifle Association (NRA) has promoted gun rights. It has also been reported that CPAC featured speeches attacking gun control advocates, and a much criticised call from Donald Trump to give guns to school teachers.
It is darkly ironic that at a conference that had been dominated by discussions over gun control following a school shooting, delegates were then able to play a VR game which involved shooting people in a public place.
Exposed Via Twitter
News of the use of the game at the event was made public when a journalist at CPAC took to Twitter to post footage of the game being played.
Facebook has since expressed regret for promoting that particular game at the conference, and has announced that it has removed Bullet Train and any other action games that include violence from the VR demo.
Bad Few Weeks For Facebook In The Media
This latest gaffe is another in series of stories in the media that have generated some bad publicity for Facebook over the last couple of weeks.
For example, last week Facebook faced criticism for allegedly using registrations to 2 factor authentication as an opportunity to send out spam SMS notifications. Any requests to stop the texts were also reported to have been posted onto the user’s Facebook profile page. In the same week, a court in Belgium told Facebook to stop using tracking code to follow and record internet use by people who weren’t even Facebook users, until it complies with Belgium’s own privacy laws.
Facebook has also received some very bad publicity since it released figures showing that Russia-based operatives uploaded 80,000 posts to Facebook in the last 2 years, and thereby may have been able to have influenced the outcome of the last US election.
Not Allied To Any Political Party
Even though this latest shoot-em-up game gaffe took place at a right-wing event, Facebook has also been quick to stress that it routinely participates in events hosted by organizations across the political spectrum.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
At the very least, this is an example of how it’s worth reviewing and checking every aspect of anything you’re presenting and promoting at a high profile event, coupled with a final reality-check is always worthwhile if you want to avoid any unnecessary bad publicity.
This story is also a reminder that we live in an age where we are constantly connected to a worldwide news network where social media can be used to instantly broadcast any errors that companies, organisations and governments make.
This story also reminds us that the activities of powerful internet companies are now under scrutiny by campaign and other interest groups, and in today’s environment, the stories of individuals rather than governments about their experiences with big internet companies can become quite powerful in keeping those companies in check and holding them to account once those stories gain momentum and mass on social media.