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