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13News Now Vault: The internet's first viral meme appeared in 1996

In a sea of millions of viral videos and memes, only one can claim it was the first.

NORFOLK, Va. — Today, memes and viral videos are an everyday part of our lives.

For better or for worse, a lot of us pass the time by scrolling through our phones with fury looking to get our fix.

But in a sea of millions of viral videos and memes, only one can claim it was the first.

It all started more than 25 years ago. Before social media, even before the internet for some people, there was the dancing baby.

The 3D-rendered, diaper-clad baby doing some version of the Cha Cha is widely known as the first viral video or meme. It originated as a collection of experimental testing data and files, ultimately released in the fall of 1996 as a product sample source file.

Something about the way it move captivated millions, and the looped animation became a phenomenon in pop culture including being prominently featured in the hit TV show Ally McBeal.

The original dancing baby was created by three animators as a freelance assignment. In 1996, we didn’t even know what a meme was and the video didn’t see a lot of company until social media exploded decades later. 

It’s only fitting that at the peak of meme culture today, the bopping baby has made its triumphant return to the internet: after giving the viral animation a facelift, the original creators are auctioning off the collection of animations, offering them up as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital assets protected just like cryptocurrency.

Even with the millions and millions of videos and memes at our fingertips today, the dancing baby proves that it’s good to be the first. At a recent auction, it sold for almost $23,000.

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