Facebook reportedly stole the @Metaverse handle from an Australian artist

Thea-Mai Baumann runs Metaverse Makeovers, an augmented reality company. After Facebook changed its name to Meta, her account disappeared.

UKRAINE - 2021/12/11: In this photo illustration, Horizon Worlds logo of a free virtual reality (VR)...
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The concept of the Metaverse existed long before Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be changing its name to Meta earlier this year, but you’d have a hard time telling the company that. According to a report from The New York Times, an Australian artist who had the handle @Metaverse on Instagram saw her account suddenly taken away from her.

Thea-Mai Baumann is an artist and technologist who has been working in the metaverse since well before Facebook bought virtual reality company Oculus and suddenly showed interest in the idea. She snagged the @Metaverse handle nearly a decade ago, in 2012, and has used the account to document her life and highlight her work, much of which makes use of augmented reality technology. She and a team of other creators built Metaverse Makeovers, a company that produces fashion and accessories that, when viewed through the lens of a smartphone, come alive.

Baumann didn’t have a massive following — she has just under 2,000 followers now, and had fewer than 1,000 when Facebook announced its name change on Oct. 28, according to the Times. But her handle got a bit of attention, because the word itself was at the center of Facebook’s new strategy. “I believe the metaverse is the next chapter for the internet,” Zuckerberg said in a video announcing the change.

Apparently, that chapter is just going to write over the past. Just days after Zuckerberg’s announcement, Baumann’s account disappeared from Instagram. She reportedly tried to sign in on Nov. 2 and was greeted with a message informing her that her account was gone: “Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else.” She attempted to contact Instagram, as she would have no problem proving that she is, in fact, herself. But Instagram was not responsive.

According to the Times, it wasn’t until the paper reached out to Instagram that the company finally acknowledged the issue. On Dec. 2, a full month after Baumann lost access to her account, Instagram effectively said, “Oops, our bad.” The company admitted that the account was removed by mistake, per the Times, and two days later Baumann finally regained access to the @Metaverse account.

“This account was incorrectly removed for impersonation and we’ve now restored it,” Stephanie Otway, a Meta company spokesperson, told Mic. “We’re sorry that this happened.” Mic reached out to Baumann to speak about her experience, but did not receive an immediate response.

It’s not uncommon for major corporations or influencers to just steamroll right over users who have parked on handles or domains that are suddenly relevant. It can be big business to squat on or claim certain names on social media with the intent to sell them, because companies often offer hefty paydays to get their hands on the account. JPMorgan Chase reportedly paid someone $20,000 to get the @Chase handle on Twitter. A 15-year-old was given a cruise valued at $5,000 to hand over the handle @CarnivalCruise on Snapchat.

But it turns out if you just own the platform, you can just delete the old owner and pretend as though nothing happened. In fact, in 2014, an Instagram employee was accused of stealing a person’s handle because they had the same name, so it’s not like these abuses are totally uncommon. If not for some media attention, Facebook probably would have never even acknowledged that this happened. But for now, @Metaverse is back in the proper hands.