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No, That Women’s March Text Is Not a Hoax

Jan. 24, 2017

But it's not an exact head count either

After the Women’s March on Washington drew record crowds to cities around the world, there’s been some online concern about two widely circulated phone numbers purported to help “count” the crowd.

During her speech addressing the crowd, America Ferrera urged marchers to text “WOMEN” to “40649” to sign up for further updates from the women’s march. Simultaneously, the It’s Time Network, a gender-equality organization, urged marchers and supporters at home to text “COUNT ME” to “89800.” On the It’s Time website, it says that the group is “not affiliated or endorsed by the organizers,” but as of Tuesday morning, a Women’s March spokeswoman confirmed that the group is, in fact, coordinating with the March.

These mixed signals prompted concern from many marchers that the latter request was a hoax. On two separate occasions, spokespeople for the Women’s March organizers confirmed to Motto that neither number is a hoax, and that both were coordinated with the Women’s March team.

The misunderstanding seems to have arisen because the massive, unexpected turnout at the Women’s March, combined with Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statements about size of the crowd at Trump’s Inauguration, put the emphasis on counting the marchers to get an accurate sense of the size of the crowd. The question became, “How many people showed up to the Women’s March?” which was not exactly what either number was designed to do.

In reality, neither number was set up primarily to give an exact head count of who actually came out to the March — the “40649” number was a way to sign up for updates from the organizers, and the “89800” number was a way to register solidarity with the march, even if you couldn’t physically attend. (It’s Time spokeswoman Martha McKenna said in an interview that the effort was specifically conceived to include disabled women who wanted to be “counted” even if they couldn’t physically march.)

“It wasn’t designed to measure the crowd, it was designed as an organizing tool for people to be able to say ‘count me in’ regardless of whether or not they got to a march,” McKenna said. Some confusing tweets from Women’s March twitter feeds warned against “third party groups collecting information for a head count.” Those tweets have since been deleted, and McKenna says the misunderstanding probably arose from a miscommunication among the March’s diffuse leadership. “I assume that whoever ended up tweeting that just wasn’t in those conversations.”

Women’s March spokeswoman Alexandra Barnett confirmed to Motto that the “89800” number was “legit” and “coordinated with the Women’s March team.” She also released a statement from the organizers.

“We are continuing to analyze the data that was received during the march day,” they said. “As we proceed with this movement, we will provide additional details on how the data will be used, with the goal of keeping participants informed, connected and activated. This is just the beginning.”

So the It’s Time text-in number is not necessarily the best mechanism for a head-count — but it’s almost certainly not a hoax.