NFT: the story behind the famous “disaster girl” meme that just sold for $ 500,000

It started out as a family photo, turned into a meme, and now has sold for $ 500,000.

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“The disaster girl”, the famous image of Zoë Roth when she was five years old in front of a burning house, has been one of the most shared on social networks for years.

His mischievous face – or malevolent, it depends how you look at it – has become a classic that has accompanied some of the photographs or paintings of the most terrible tragedies and moments in history.

The young woman, now 21, took advantage of the fame of her image and just sold it for US$500.000, a sum enough, he said, to pay off his student debts, distribute among his family and donate to charity.

Roth sold the ownership of his meme at auction on Thursday as a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital property certificate.

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A collector named @ 3FMusic was the one who paid the sum, through cryptocurrencies.

But what is the story behind the meme? Was the young woman really responsible for the fire? When did it go viral?

A lucky break

In a recent interview with BuzzFeed, Zoë Roth recounted that it all started one afternoon in 2005, when she was five years old and was watching television with her family.

It was then that they heard the sirens of the firemen and they went out to see what was happening.

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“About two blocks from our house there was smoke coming out and we went to see what was going on,” he recalled.

The father, a photographer who had recently bought a camera, decided to take it to the fire site.

When they arrived, according to the young woman, they thought it was a real fire, but when they saw the calm attitude of the firefighters they realized that something strange was happening.

Zoë Roth is now 21 years old. (Photo: Getty Images)

They soon learned that the owners had donated the house to the Fire Department to set it on fire and do a drill, making it a “controlled fire.”

“My father was taking pictures of the house and then he told me it was time to smile. He asks me to smile and that’s why I make that face, because it was how I smiled, the face that I used to smile, back then ”, he says.

The photo, however, was among many others from that day.

From the photo to the meme

It was not until 2008, when they learned that he had won a contest for a specialized magazine on the subject: “emotions in photography.”

Since its publication, the image went viral and went around the world accompanied by moments ranging from the sinking of the Titanic to the Hindenburg disaster.

“They just make it fit into any image,” Roth told the New York Times. “I love to see them (the memes) because I would never do any of them, but I love to see how creative people are.”

NTFs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  (BBC / Beeple)

NTFs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. (BBC / Beeple)

The young woman says she has been surprised by how the meme with its mischievous smile has survived through the years.

“People who are on memes and go viral is one thing, but the way the internet has latched onto my photo and kept it viral, has kept it relevant, it’s crazy to me,” he told New York Times.

The NTF market

The market for digital art property rights has exploded this year after several multi-million dollar NFT sales.

An NFT is a unique digital token, encrypted with an artist’s signature, that verifies ownership and is permanently attached to the piece, thus allowing original versions of popular online content, such as viral memes and tweets, to be sold as if they were physical works of art.

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The NFT is marked with a code that will allow the Roth family, who have said they will split the profits, keep the copyright and receive 10% of future sales.

On February 19, an animated gif of Nyan Cat, a 2011 flying cat meme, sold for more than $ 500,000.

A few weeks later, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey included an NFT of the first ever tweet, with offers reaching $ 2.5 million.

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