This Woman's Allegedly Stolen Tweet Became A Bizarre "Parrot-Ghazi" Scandal And Now She's Speaking Out

The lawyer told BuzzFeed News she first brushed it off as "just Twitter," but now she thinks it's a larger "integrity issue."

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In late 2016, Jo Anna Parker, a 44-year-old family law and custody lawyer from Phenix City, Alabama, found herself entangled in a strange but intense battle with another lawyer over a tweet. It would quickly be referred to as "Parrot-Ghazi" within ~Legal Twitter~ circles.

Jo Anna Parker

Yes, Legal Twitter is a thing. Like Black Twitter or Political Twitter, it's a community of users who share a common background and/or interest. In this case: the law.

If you're already struggling to follow, it's OK. We'll start from the very beginning.

In September, Parker tweeted a joke inspired by a trial she had that day settling visitation between a divorced couple over their dog. She hilariously imagined what it'd be like if it were a pet parrot instead.

Just settled a divorce over Parrot custody/visitation. Neither may teach it negative phrases abt the other. I went to law school for this.

Parker confirmed to BuzzFeed News that this silly joke was entirely made up for a laugh.

Her tweet went viral, gathering a few thousand retweets.

But peculiarly, two months later, she came across a very, very similar tweet from a business lawyer from Philadelphia, Michael Adler. His tweet eventually went hugely viral — so far it has over 55,000 retweets.

Just settled a divorce over visitation of a parrot. Neither may teach it negative phrases about the other. I went to law school for this.

The wording and structure of the two tweets were suspiciously identical, and people quickly called Adler out for it.

Some people who initially retweeted Adler's tweet then apologized, unretweeted, and retweeted Parker's instead.

But Adler's tweet had already gained enough attention that a local Philly news site BillyPenn.com contacted and interviewed Adler for a story about this alleged parrot visitation trial he had.

Adler told this story — which, according to him, involved a real trial with a real couple. And a real parrot, allegedly.

Michael Adler

He told BillyPenn.com he consulted with other lawyers on how to deal with this particular case, and that they "came up" with the idea of "just agreeing not to say anything nasty in front of the parent," Adler claimed.

“You have to use creative skills to get at what is bothering the other side,” he added.

But Parker wasn't buying any of it. She thought the whole story was a complete fabrication by Adler "for five seconds of marginal fame." She then took to his mentions: "You went to law school AND stole my tweet," she replied.

@madler9000 You went to law school AND stole my tweet. Cool.

"I wish I had a better clapback but I was so mad," Parker later told BuzzFeed News about her response. "He was talking about it like it was a real case!"

"He went through this very dramatic story that was clearly made up," she said of Adler's story. "I was seething. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it was down to the exact wording."

When more people started to realize it was likely a copied tweet, they retaliated hard.

@senateur61 Man steals woman's work, takes credit. The eternal story. https://t.co/THTv0rpa1T

Internet detectives soon found other tweets Adler may have copied verbatim — or, er, were a series of magical and unfortunate coincidences.

@jctwritesstuff @madler9000 @Parkerlawyer look at the plagiarism.

None of the subsequent similar tweets from Adler gained more traction than the original, aside from Parker's parrot tweet.

Here's one from user @Allen_Clifton on July 23, 2016.

Imagine what Republicans would have said if Barack Obama featured his 5 kids from 3 different women at his convention in 2008...

And from Adler two days later.

Can you imagine what the Republicans would have said about @BarackObama if his 5 kids from 3 different mothers spoke at 2008 @DemConvention?

In the same month, a popular Pokemon Go tweet from user @michael_hendrix was followed by a tweet from Adler a week later with slightly different wording.

Samir Mezrahi, a former BuzzFeed employee and the creator of the account @KaleSalad, started @KaleSalad with the sole mission to promote viral tweets and give direct credit to the original tweets by retweeting them.

I retweet all the viral tweets the meme accounts steal. Follow me for the source. Please RT this for awareness since I do not tweet myself

Mezrahi believes it's certainly possible people on Twitter could innocuously come up with the same joke, but it's become more pervasive to republish someone else's joke and then, well, play dumb.

"It's definitely shitty when people take jokes that other people make, but that has become the nature of this platform," he told BuzzFeed News.

"Most of the people who do that, though, probably wouldn't claim that they made it up. They just did it because, like, who's going to stop them? It's not like it's illegal."

It's certainly not punishable by law, but legal blogs perked up at the ~controversy~ and began covering it closely. Soon, terms like "plagiarism" and "public misrepresentation" were circulating.

@casiestewart @janbaker97 @madler9000 @ECVDA I preferred the replies pointing out he stole the tweet from @Parkerlawyer

The blog Lawyers and Liquor said the allegedly stolen tweet was particularly concerning for the law community because "people already think we’re greasy no-goods who are coming for all their money."

Parker echoed this very notion: "I was more upset because it was another lawyer, and lawyers have such a bad name anyway."

Meanwhile, Adler not only denied stealing the tweet to BillyPenn.com in a follow-up interview, but he also went on the BBC to further the narrative of the supposed parrot trial — and with new details.

@Parkerlawyer @madler9000 Hey, Madler. Learn anything in law school about intellectual property or nah.

He described the alleged couple as "an all-male couple here in Philadelphia," but he said he couldn't "talk all that detailed about it since it's an ongoing matter."

Parker said she was truly baffled by what she believed to be a continuous lie.

"He kept saying it’s real, and never addressed me," she said. "I don’t wish him any harm but I feel like had I done that my bar would have investigated me."

In late November, she decided ultimately not to speak to media about it because she didn't want to get her personal details and her practice involved over a tweet. "I was like, c'mon it’s just Twitter,’" she told herself.

Months went by, and Parker noticed Adler still had not deleted the tweet, despite people continually calling him out. She wanted to open the dialogue, this time publicly, about this evolving notion of intellectual property online.

Jo Anna Parker

In response to those who may say it's silly to fight over a tweet, she said she's been receiving unending support from people online.

"I had so many people who were so outraged," she said, adding that she gets DMs to this day from strangers asking what she's "going to do about it."

What she's asking of Adler is simple: "Common practice is you delete [the tweet]," she said. "You say, 'Oh I’m sorry' — you don’t ride it all the way to the BBC."

Jeanne Fromer, a professor at NYU who specializes in copyright law and intellectual property, told BuzzFeed News this drama — albeit silly on the surface — does touch on new "interactions between law and norms" online.

its.law.nyu.edu

While there are no laws against plagiarism — and certainly not for viral Twitter jokes — Fromer believes the backlash Adler received on his alleged stolen tweet is shaping new codes of ethics on social media.

"It's interesting," Fromer explained. "I don’t think law is going to have a major role to play. It’s a 'norm' he’s in violation of. We give credit for these things, and people get understandably upset."

"And there are easy mechanisms to give attribution," she said of the retweet button.

Fromer said, assuming Adler did steal the parrot tweet, there are no legal consequences for it. But given how public Twitter is, there could be other ramifications. "He might end up losing some business," she said.

"We want to make things copyrightable to inspire people to create, but tweets are interesting because what drives people to tweet?" Fromer said.

In this case, she speculates it could be "business reasons" for Adler to drive more attention and ultimately bring in more clients.

Adler told BillyPenn.com at the time that the parrot tweet brought him 80 more followers. He said he gained 800 followers after a viral lottery tweet. "This has been a way to brand myself,” Adler explained.

Ultimately, Parker just wants a modicum of justice. "A lot of people do believe Twitter is just Twitter," she said. "But for some people, especially comedians, it’s very important to them that their ideas are not stolen."

"You give credit when credit is due," she added. "Don’t steal from people — it's the golden rule."

Tanya Chen is a social news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.

Contact Tanya Chen at tanya.chen@buzzfeed.com.

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