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Saturday, January 22, 2022

His Instagram handle was “Metaverse”. Last month, it disappeared.

by Madison Connaughton, The New York Times Company

SYDNEY — In October, Thea-Mae Baumann, an Australian artist and technologist, found herself sitting on prime internet real estate.

In 2012, she started an Instagram account with the handle @metaverse, a name she used in her creative works. In the account, she documented her life in Brisbane, where she studied fine arts, and her trip to Shanghai, where she built an augmented reality company called Metaverse Makeover.

She had less than 1,000 followers when Instagram’s parent company Facebook announced on October 28 that it was changing its name. Subsequently, Facebook would be known as Meta, a reflection of its focus on the Metaverse, a virtual world it sees as the future of the Internet.

A few days ago, as word leaked out, Bowman started receiving messages from strangers offering to buy her Instagram handle. “You are a millionaire now,” wrote one person on her account. Another warned: “fb ain’t gonna buy it, they’re gonna take it.”

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That’s exactly what happened on November 2.

That morning, when he tried to log in to Instagram, he found that the account had been disabled. A message on the screen read: “Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else.”

She wondered, was she now supposedly impersonating after nine years? She tried to verify her identity with Instagram, but weeks went by, but there was no response, she said. She spoke to an intellectual property attorney, but she could only review Instagram’s terms of service.

“This account is a decade of my life and work. I didn’t want my contributions to the Metaverse to be erased from the internet,” she said. “It happens all the time, for women of color in tech, for women of color in tech,” said Baumann, who has Vietnamese heritage.

Matthew Abbott, The New York Times

Artist and technologist Thea-Mae Baumann, who uses the name “Metaverse” in her creative works, at her home in Marrickville, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, on December 10, 2021. Five days after Facebook changed its name to Meta, Bauman found himself blocked without recourse from an Instagram account documenting nearly a decade of his life and work.

She debuted the Metaverse makeover in 2012. When a phone running his app was placed on top of one of the complex real-world nails created by his team, the image on the screen would show holograms “popping” from the nails. This was before Pokémon Go, before Snapchat and Instagram filters became a part of everyday life.

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