Thea-Mai Baumann had been posting on Instagram using the @metaverse handle for nearly a decade when her account was disabled on November 2.
“Your account was blocked for pretending to be someone else,” the app told her.
Baumann wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, but the timing was curious. The account lockout came just days after Facebook announced its new name, Meta. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the name reflects the company’s new focus on its vision of the metaverse, a virtual world designed to facilitate commerce, communication and more. The nichname @metaverse Baumann’s had suddenly become a hot commodity.
The fool of Meta
“This report is a decade of my life and my work. I didn’t want my contribution to the metaverse to be wiped off the Internet, ”he said Baumann to the New York Times. “This happens to women in tech, women of color in tech, all the time.” In 2012, when Baumann started Metaverse Makeovers, she grabbed the Instagram nickname @metaverse to showcase her art and technology. The Aussie had created an app that would show virtual holograms on her company’s nail designs. She envisioned making an entire line of clothing and accessories that would be virtually augmented. After five years, the funding ran out and she started using her Instagram account to promote her other works.
Baumann’s @metaverse account has gone relatively unnoticed over the years, attracting fewer than 1,000 followers. Then Facebook changed its name.
On October 28, Zuckerberg announced the change in its Connect 2021 keynote, stating that Facebook’s name “just doesn’t encompass everything we do.” Zuckerberg had been selling his idea of the metaverse for months, saying to The Verge in an interview last summer that “the metaverse is a vision that spans many companies, the entire industry,” he said. “It’s certainly not something any company will build.”
Baumann, with his years of experience running a business based and named after the concept, would apparently be an ideal partner in that venture.
After Zuckerberg’s keynote, Baumann began receiving unsolicited messages on Instagram, including some offering to buy @metaverse from her. However, one person issued a warning: “fb will not buy it, they will take it”.
It is unclear if Meta / Facebook has anything to do with Baumann losing access to his account. Baumann attempted to verify his identity with Instagram, but received no response for weeks. He tried working with an intellectual property attorney to see what rights he had to get his account back, but he couldn’t afford their services.
Story with a happy ending
Once a reporter found out about the story, however, things changed. On December 4th, two days after a New York Times reporter contacted Meta about the account, Baumann suddenly regained access to @metaverse. ”This account was mistakenly removed for identity theft and now we have it. restored, ”Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for the Meta company, told Ars. “We’re sorry this happened.”
Baumann’s experience could have a chilling effect on the willingness of companies and individuals to participate in social media for fear of their online identity being arbitrarily seized. “Facebook has essentially unlimited discretion in stealing people’s Instagram usernames,” Rebecca Giblin, director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia at the University of Melbourne, told the New York Times. “There can be good reasons for this, such as if they are offensive or pretend to be someone in a confusing way.”
“But @metaverse’s example highlights the breadth of this power,” said Giblin. Users “essentially have no rights”.