In October, Thea-Mai Baumann, an Australian artist and technologist, found herself sitting on prime internet real estate. In 2012, she had started an Instagram account with the handle @metaverse, a name she used in her creative work.
On the account, she documented her life in Brisbane, where she studied fine art, and her travels to Shanghai, where she built an augmented reality company called Metaverse Makeovers. She had fewer than 1,000 followers when until Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, announced on Oct. 28 that it was changing its name to Meta.
Baumann began receiving messages from strangers offering to buy her Instagram handle. "You are now a millionaire", one person wrote on her account. Another warned: "fb isn't gonna buy it, they're gonna take it." On November 2, exactly that happened.
Early that morning, when she tried to log in to Instagram, she found that the account had been disabled.
A message on the screen read: "Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else." Whom was she now supposedly impersonating after nine years? She tried to verify her identity with Instagram, but weeks passed with no response, she said.
She talked to an intellectual property lawyer but could afford only a review of Instagram's terms of service.
"This account is a decade of my life and work. I didn't want my contribution to the metaverse to be wiped from the internet. That happens to women in tech, to women of colour in tech, all the time", added Baumann, who has Vietnamese heritage.