Mark Zuckerberg Touts Virtual Reality at Rome Town Hall

mark zuckerberg - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

mark zuckerberg - Getty - H 2016

"We are a tech company, not a media company," the Facebook CEO also says.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a busy trip to Italy. After attending the wedding of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek to Sofia Levander at Lake Como over the weekend, complete with a performance by Bruno Mars, Zuckerberg jetted over to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Francis on Monday.

Zuckerberg next met with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and then held one of his trademark town hall meetings at the Rome university campus of LUISS (Libera Universita Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli), where he spoke on everything from the role of Facebook in emergency situations to his company’s relationship with the media.

The young CEO said he was proud of Facebook’s role in the recent tragedy in central Italy, the earthquake that has claimed almost 300 lives. He spoke of one restaurant that posted to donate 1 euro for every ordered dish of Amatrice pasta, the namesake dish of the village destroyed by the earthquake, which inspired 700 restaurants to join in and do the same.

He also made sure to downplay rumors of Facebook becoming a media company. "No, we are a tech company, not a media company,” he told the gathered audience. "We build the tools, we do not produce any content." He concluded: “The world needs news companies, but also technology platforms, like what we do, and we take our role in this very seriously.”

But the big takeaway of the event was the importance Zuckerberg once again ascribed to the future of virtual reality. Facebook acquired VR startup Oculus in 2014.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality are going to be the most social platforms that ever existed,” as they will allow people to meet with people from around the world without physically being in the same space, he said.

He said VR could help families connect and used the example of currently being away from his daughter, Maxine, who was in California during his European travels. “To feel like I was right there with her would be a really powerful social experience,” he said.

Zuckerberg also responded to criticism that social media was ruining person-to-person interactions. “It’s for making it so you can communicate with people who you otherwise wouldn’t have the time to connect with,” he said. “Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.”

In his meeting with the pope, Zuckerberg discussed how communications technology could alleviate poverty around the world, and the young billionaire gifted his holiness with a Facebook drone that aims to bring the internet to places that don’t have access.