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Metaverse Instagram account vanished
via Instagram @metaverse / Oculus

The tech artist whose ‘metaverse’ Instagram handle vanished, explained

After announcing its name change to Meta, Facebook appeared to delete then reinstate Thea-Mai Baumann’s account – but why did it disappear in the first place?

In October, Facebook announced its ploy to expand into the metaverse – the tech world’s next big advancement in the form of a futuristic interactive online world where users can game, do business, and socialise in a virtual environment, usually using VR headsets. Speaking in an unsettling presentation video, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted Facebook’s corporate name change to ‘Meta’ and explained the ‘potential’ of the dystopian digital sphere.

A few days later, Australian artist and technologist Thea-Mai Baumann opened up her phone to find her Instagram profile had vanished. “Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else,” flashed the app; her nine-year-old account, under the username @metaverse, had been disabled.

“I was pretty surprised, but I kind of had a feeling something was going to go down,” Baumann told The Guardian. “A couple of days before my account was disabled, I was getting a lot of people reaching out to me, asking to buy my handle and also other people saying that they wanted my account.” 

The artist used her account to document her life studying fine art in Brisbane and her travels to Shanghai, where she founded an augmented reality company called Metaverse Makeovers. When Baumann first heard Facebook’s name change news, she decided to turn her first post into an NFT in order to “create a digital record… and prove my ownership over” the handle. However, the account was still disabled.

After a few weeks of unsuccessful attempts to reinstate the account, Baumann reached out to The New York Times for help and to spread awareness. “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,” she told the newspaper

Baumann, who is of Vietnamese heritage, added: “That happens to women in tech, to women of colour in tech, all the time.”

On December 2, The New York Times contacted Meta, asking why the account was closed. In response, Meta stated that the account was “incorrectly removed for impersonation” and would be restored. “We’re sorry this error occurred,” they said, failing to explain who they thought the account was impersonating or if it was connected to the rebrand.

“I feel like if I hadn’t reached out to the media… I think I probably would have been forgotten in the whole process, just completely ignored. I would have disappeared in the whole metaverse, Meta rebrand,” said Baumann. 

While Baumann described the metaverse as “pretty exciting”, she also shared her doubts about the concept. “Unfortunately from my perspective, artists and women aren’t really centred in that design process and that engineering process,” she said. “In fact, we’re… deeply marginalised and often co-opted and not part of the whole creation process of web 3.0 or the metaverse.” 

She continued: “I didn’t want to have my work in that space erased by big tech.”

Now, Baumann plans to add her experiences with Meta and the metaverse into her long-term project, titled P∞st_Lyfe – which investigates death and digital identity in the metaverse. 

“Ironically, in this kind of meta moment, I experienced my own kind of digital extinguishing,” she said. “It’s kind of a little bit of a weird meta experience.”

See Baumann's post on P∞st_Lyfe below.