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 . “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.”