Twitter users cringe at Meta’s SXSW virtual 9/11 ‘experience’

Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta is courting controversy again with a new display at this year’s SXSW multimedia festival, which is already raising eyebrows and ire on Twitter.

At some point around 11:15am CDT, beverage blogger and Twitter user Dave Infante tweeted a picture, sent to him by a friend, taken at Meta’s virtual reality exhibit at the festival. The banner in the picture proclaims the VR experience in question, entitled Surviving 9/11: 27 Hours Under the Rubble next to which two festival attendees appear to be taking part in the experience via the company’s Meta Quest VR headsets.

Twitter users were quick to jump on the questionable if not downright distasteful aspects of the VR exhibit. Some compared the idea to disaster tourism with others snarkily suggesting that other experiences featuring historical tragedies might also be in the making. Others still were aghast at what they took at first to be some sort of video game.

Surviving 9/11: 27 Hours Under the Rubble is in fact, a documentary filmed in VR. The film follows the experiences of Genelle Guzman-McMillan, a Trinidadian immigrant who was the last person to be rescued at Ground Zero. According to the SXSW 2022 official schedule, “By exploring Genelle’s souvenirs, this documentary offers an emotional dive into the defining moments of her life: her first days in New York, her memories of 9/11, and her life today, 20 years later as she returns to Ground Zero for the first time since 9/11.” states that the VR in the feature allows the user to “walk on the World Trade Center Plaza, reach the observatory deck, and admire the New York City skyline—all as they were before 9/11.”

VR Doc producer TARGO studios, recently nominated for an Emmy for their virtual reality production Rebuilding Notre Dame, has received praise and positive feedback for Surviving 9/11. In an interview with Oculus, producer Chloé Rochereuil stated, “It feels like the people who have watched the documentary live it as an uplifting experience, as a story of hope — and nothing could make us happier than this.”

TARGO producer Victor Agulhon added, “What we have done here with the memory of 9/11 can be applied for any historical event. I think VR opens up a whole new way to connect with history — it really is an opportunity to share stories and experiences unlike anything that was possible before.”