When Facebook announced it was rebranding to Meta, the company was prepared. Right after Mark Zuckerberg delivered a meandering keynote extolling the benefits of the metaverse, the company revealed it had repainted its iconic “thumbs up” sign that sits at its headquarters in Menlo Park. Many of its social media accounts also switched over, from Facebook to Meta.
Except for one key account, that is. As many pointed out at the time, the company didn’t control the @Meta handle on Instagram. It belonged to a small Denver-based magazine called META. The day of Facebook’s announcement, the company, which publishes lifestyle stories about motorcycles, posted a photo of assorted print issues with the caption “Since 2014.”
That evening, recent posts from the @Meta account were filled with comments encouraging the owner to “hold” the account, or at least sell it for a high price. “Hold and sell high,” one user wrote. But by the next day, the account had mysteriously vanished, as Quartz reported. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but @Meta has now subsumed all the content from the previous @Facebook Instagram page. Posts on the account predate October 28th, as if the social network had always controlled it. Posts from META, the magazine, now appear under the @readmeta handle.
META the publisher didn’t respond to requests for comment. But there are still signs of its former Instagram account on its website. The company’s website still links to its old instagram.com/meta account. Oddly, clicking on that link from the publisher’s website turns up an error, even though it links to the same URL as the now Facebook-owned Meta account.
On Tuesday, Ben Geise, META’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, announced that the magazine’s most recent issue would be the last under the name it had used for more than eight years. “We value our individuality above all else, so when the news broke that a corporate Goliath was changing its name to Meta, it felt like a punch to the gut,” he wrote in a blog post. “With the flip of a switch our identity was suddenly watered down, and we watched our name circle the drain and wash away with something we had no control over.”
Geise didn’t respond to requests for comment, so it’s difficult to know exactly what happened. But Instagram’s terms of service state that businesses are unable to “reserve” handles. And the terms stipulate that companies can’t claim trademark violations if the account owner is using it for an unrelated purpose. “Using another's trademark in a way that has nothing to do with the product or service for which the trademark was granted is not a violation of Instagram's trademark policy,” the policy states. “Instagram usernames are provided on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Of course, accounts and handles often trade hands anyway. Businesses have been known to use escrow services to negotiate account transfers, while others have used shadier marketplaces to gain access to accounts with desirable handles.
But the practice is also officially prohibited by Instagram’s terms of service. “You can’t sell, license, or purchase any account or data obtained from us or our Service,” the terms of service states. “This includes attempts to buy, sell, or transfer any aspect of your account (including your username); solicit, collect, or use login credentials or badges of other users; or request or collect Instagram usernames, passwords, or misappropriate access tokens.”
That raises questions about whether Facebook skirted its own rules in order to gain access to a coveted username, the kind of action other users are routinely banned for. Or whether the company found another justification for taking over the account. An Instagram spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
For now, META the publisher says it’s focused on the future. “Our brand is much more than just a name. We represent a way of living,” Geise wrote. “We speak to inspire and encourage the rare breed of humans out there bold enough to chase their dreams and never look back.”
Update 12/16 7:10pm ET: A spokesperson for Meta said that there were no trademark claims or legal threats made against META the publisher, but declined to comment on whether the social network had been in touch with the magazine or whether they had been compensated for their username. "We allow people to change their usernames on Instagram," Meta spokesperson Stepahnie Otway said in a statement.