Facebook has triggered widespread outrage after promoting a violent virtual reality shooting game at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday (23 February) a little over a week after the tragic Florida high school shooting.
At the conference near Washington, the social media company let CPAC visitors test out its Oculus Rift technology by demoing Bullet Train - a VR game that lets people use an array of imaginary weapons to attack resistance forces at a train station. Developed by Epic Games, the experience is currently available for free on Facebook's Oculus Rift.
The demo comes as the nation still mourns after the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. The latest mass shooting has triggered a student-led movement for tougher gun control laws in the US.
Several reporters and CPAC attendees shared footage of the demo on Twitter, immediately triggering furious criticism from social media users over Facebook's "tone-deaf" decision. The jarring demo has also triggered calls for users to boycott Facebook.
"Unless Facebook is charging CPAC attendees $5 to play & donating that money to gun safety organisations, this might be one demo to pull given circumstances," venture capitalist Hunter Walker tweeted.
"I've been waiting for one last straw before closing my Facebook account. This VR Shooting Game at CPAC is it. #boycottfacebook" one user said.
"WTF is wrong with you people?" another person fumed.
Kira Lerner, a reporter at ThinkProgress, tweeted that Facebook representatives at the booth were instructed not to talk about the conspiracies swirling around the Parkland shooting on Facebook.
Facebook later removed the demo game "out of respect" for the victims of the Florida school shooting.
"There is a standard set of experiences included in the Oculus demos we feature at public events," Facebook's VP of VR Hugo Bara said in a statement. "A few of the action games can include violence. In light of the recent events in Florida and out of respect for the victims and their families, we have removed them from this demo. We regret that we failed to do so in the first place."
Facebook's presence at the high-profile conservative event has also garnered criticism in light of the rampant spread of conspiracy theories about survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting. Over the past week, some users have spread the fake theory that the students now actively calling for gun control are paid actors.
Many people also criticised the tech company for its decision to attend the political conference that featured NRA head Wayne LaPierre defending gun rights, multiple speeches attacking gun control advocates and President Donald Trump calling for teachers to be armed to protect students.
"Facebook routinely participates in events hosted by organisations across the political spectrum," Facebook said in an statement. "Our presence allows us to share information about our products as well as facilitate a dialogue.
"Our involvement is not an endorsement of any particular position or platform."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has yet to respond to the backlash.