Thea-Mai Baumann’s Instagram profile is an eclectic mix of pink-lipped selfies, David Bowie memes, colorful recordings of his holograms, shots of skyscrapers in Shanghai, and tinted portraits of friends in Valencia, Amaro and Toaster, all filters from the beginnings of Instagram.
Baumann’s account, which operates under the handle @metaverse, presents 10 years of his life and work. All of this became inaccessible to her when she suddenly found herself deactivated from her account on November 2, days after Facebook, which owns Instagram, changed its umbrella name to Meta.
A message flashed on her screen: “Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else.”
As Facebook’s rebranding attempts to reflect the virtual world the tech company sees as the future of the internet, Baumann suddenly found herself left out.
“I guess I was pretty surprised, but I kind of had a feeling something was going to happen,” the Sydney-based artist and technologist told The Guardian in a telephone interview. “A few days before my account was deactivated, a lot of people were contacting me, asking me to buy my ID and other people saying they wanted my account,” she said.
Baumann did what she thought was protecting her property on her Instagram account. A few days before her account was deactivated, she created an NFT of the first photo she took under her username @metaverse, an image of a fake flamingo inspecting a plant.
“I just had a feeling that @metaverse digital real estate was going to become quite ubiquitous in the media landscape,” Baumann said, adding, “I wanted to create a digital record of my account and prove my ownership on this @metaverse handle. “
Instagram has always deactivated his account. Over the next several weeks, Baumann attempted to reestablish his account, contacting Instagram’s help center to no avail. When she finally contacted The New York Times, which contacted Meta on December 2 to ask why her account was closed, Baumann received a response.
An Instagram spokesperson said the account was “wrongly deleted for impersonation” and would be restored, which it did, two days later. “We are sorry this error has occurred,” the company added.
“I feel like if I hadn’t contacted the media… I think I probably would have been forgotten during the whole process, completely ignored. I would have disappeared. I would have vanished throughout the metaverse, Meta rebrand, ”Baumann said.
Baumann’s experience reflects the growing concerns of artists who fear being left behind as tech companies like Meta lead the way for the Metaverse, a still mostly hypothetical virtual world accessible through virtual reality (VR) technology and augmented reality (AR).
“I feel like the metaverse is a pretty exciting concept. I mean, we’re sort of entering this web 3.0 space or the next evolution of the internet. And unfortunately, from my perspective, artists and women aren’t really focused on this design process and this engineering process, ”Baumann said.
“In fact, we are… deeply marginalized and often co-opted and not part of the entire Web 3.0 creation process or the metaverse,” she added. “I didn’t want my work in this space to be erased by high technology.”
Over the years, Baumann has created several brands under the pseudonym @metaverse. “I use it as part of a lot of creative entities that I have founded, so I feel like I have ownership of that handful in this social media space, the tech ecosystem, and the metaverse.”
One of Baumann’s brands is an augmented reality company called Metaverse Makeovers. According to its website, which describes wearable “apps”, the company’s Metaverse Nails “is the only product in the world that allows you to adorn your digital and physical self with customizable holograms. It is glamorous wearable technology.
For Baumann, a step towards the inclusiveness of the metaverse is for tech companies to invest in the artists, “not just by creating the platforms, but by actually investing … and by collaborating with the artists to design the new infrastructure around the Web 3.0 and the metaverse “.
Baumann plans to integrate the entire Instagram saga into P??st_Lyfe, an art project she launched last year that deals with the death of her digital identity in the Metaverse.
“Ironically, in that kind of meta-moment, I experienced my own kind of digital extinction,” Baumann said. “It’s kind of a weird kind of meta-experience,” she added after a pause.