The meme itself came into existence when Zoe Roth, now 21, was merely 4 years old. Her dad snapped a photograph of her outside of a home in their North Carolina neighborhood as it burned down in 2005. The resulting image, which appeared to show Roth looking upon the house as though she were responsible for the flames, ended up winning JPG magazine’s “Emotion Capture” contest and later made the rounds on Flickr, Zooomr, and beyond.
Roth’s smirk in front of the fire has since become internet shorthand for chaos and has been shared millions of times. Knowing this, the UNC Chapel Hill senior decided to auction the image off as a non-fungible token (or NFT) after receiving an email suggesting she do so, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
NFTs are “unique and can’t be replaced with something else,” The Verge explained, and can most closely be compared with a work of art or even a one-of-a-kind trading card. Most are stored on the Ethereum blockchain, essentially a digital ledger for cryptocurrency. The item’s value is based on its rarity.
The “Disaster Girl” NFT was coded so that Roth keeps the copyright, and, each time it is bought, she receives 10% of the sale. Such a move puts her in control of the viral image for the first time in nearly 16 years.
A 24-hour auction for the NFT ultimately yielded Roth nearly $458,000 or 180 ETH (Ethereum), which she plans to split with her family.
Roth told the Raleigh News & Observer that she specifically planned to donate her portion to nonprofits and added: “Nobody who is a meme tried to do that, it just ended up that way — Is it luck? Is it fate? I have no idea. But I will take it.”