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A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real (chronicle.com) 173

mi shares a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt. But he's a fiction, and "his" site -- an invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

"Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU (the company that owns Cloud's website, The Student Loan Report). Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn't respond to additional inquiries. And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with "SLR Editor." Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention. Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud "was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the Wordpress website."

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A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real

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  • That's a pretty suspicious looking name.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and by NBC.

    So major fake news sites quoted this fake journalist without even verifying he was real? No surprise

    • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @10:54AM (#56506647) Journal

      Why is this a surprise to anyone at this point. I mean the major News operations have been running "RUSSIA HACKED THE ELECTION" story for over a year now, on innuendo and whispers from "unnamed sources". Hey look a Porn Star!!!

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @11:03AM (#56506715)
      It's really more a product of the 24-hour news cycle combined with an increasingly online, and therefore difficult to monetize, audience. Journalists have to churn out story after story without time to do adequate research, and cuts to editorial staff means lower and lower quality stories get published. There's not a day that goes by now that I don't see a typo or garbled sentence in a story on a major news organization's website. It's a problem that is not likely to be solved any time soon, especially given the current political climate and the views a certain subset of American society has towards the media, as your post so clearly demonstrates.
      • It's also much more difficult to identify/verify a source that you only ever communicate with via email.

        In this particular case, it's not as if the journalists were presenting false information from an unconfirmed source. The only actual difference is that they used the pseudonym instead of "company spokesman". The problem would be if the pseudonym was being presented as an independent expert that was recommending the company.
  • by tinkerton ( 199273 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:17AM (#56506053)

    I stumbled onto that site too once through /.
    https://news.slashdot.org/stor... [slashdot.org]

    I thought it looked mighty fishy. Sea mammal sized fishy.

    I think student loans are a reason to support Elisabeth Warren.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:17AM (#56506059) Homepage

    Industry analysts Chad Sudonim, Ima Puppet, Travis Hoxe, and Gnome DePlume all denounced the deception.

  • Next you will be telling me Betty Crocker and Sarah Lee were not real but fictional characters dreamed up by corporate suits....
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:26AM (#56506115) Homepage
    disclosure: I work in a tech/marketing position
    astroturfing is nothing new, in most brands you're always encouraged to consume the product or service being sold to you. Student loans appear to have taken a page from the luxury automotive industry in this case. Luxury auto brand advertisements often feature sultry evenings, fancy clothes, modern homes, and posh gatherings along with esoteric screeds on technology and futurism. The marketing of a luxury automobile does not include these references because they have anything to do with successful, rich, or famous people. These elements of a successful ad for a luxury car exist because theyre your aspirations, rebranded. Legitimately rich people looking to experience a mercedes simply buy one without any real conditioning. if they dont like it, they sell the car and buy a new one. What automotive brands are doing is conditioning you to sidestep your self interests and reason in order to consume a product that is far and away more expensive than the average consumer can afford. Projecting the success of these products, most luxury automotive brands will sponsor the humbler bay yacht race, or Wimbledon, but not to sell cars to the rich. These events are sponsored in order to maintain the illusion that luxury vehicles are in some way intrinsic to wealth and success.
    • What, you mean Tiger Woods doesn't drive a Buick? None of what you say is a surprise.

      But I feel like what is going on here is much bigger than astroturfing. It is intentionally lying to (lazy and gullible) media outlets to create a false narrative. Media should know better than to fall for this stuff, but that doesn't make it ok to do it.

      • Does he even have a license at this point?

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        It is intentionally lying to (lazy and gullible) media outlets to create a false narrative. Media should know better than to fall for this stuff, but that doesn't make it ok to do it.

        It's okay if it advances the left's agenda. If it helps the right it's evil (re. Facebook).

        • Don't pretend the right doesn't do this with Fox News.

          They are all garbage. The problem is that people WANT biased reporting. I almost can't blame them for pandering to the far left and right. Almost.

    • The schools and banks need accountability with student loans just having easier to get chapter 11 or 7 can fix issues with them.

      Right now the schools and banks can push high costs and be like it's ok to have $250-$300 textbooks vs with accountability for defaults where they can say lower your text book cost or we will pick some other place to get them from.

  • Not the first time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Cynical Critic ( 1294574 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:32AM (#56506165)
    Not the first time something like this has happened... Back in 2000 Sony Pictures created a made-up film critic called David Manning just so that they could put "quotes" from him on their posters and other marketing materials, even went as far as to attributing him to an actual weekly that did film reviews.

    People eventually got suspicious and when Newsweek contacted the weekly he supposedly worked for they flat out said they'd never heard of him. Sony obviously didn't think they did anything wrong, which is hardly surprising seeing how around the same time they were caught having employees posing as movie goers in commercials, but they did eventually settle when sued.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      On a similar note, but far more interesting and worthy of respect: there was once a hugely productive, brilliant and entirely fictitional mathematician: Nicolas Bourbaki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_Bourbaki).

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      Did they create a back story for Manning and reach out and flat out lie to news reporters? If not then this is on a whole different level.
  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:33AM (#56506179)

    A company created a fake expert to fraudulently advance their agenda? What is the world coming to?

    It's one thing to create a fake persona for marketing purposes, but to present them as a genuine expert to media outlets? That seems like it should be crossing some sort of legal line.

    • That seems like it should be crossing some sort of legal line.

      If appeal to authority were a crime instead of a logical fallacy then Slashdot wouldn't exist.

    • by Pascoea ( 968200 )
      Next you're going to tell me that Abigail Van Buren isn't writing advice columns any more and has been replaced with someone else.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    And the (Trump) plan now is to decapitate the CFPB? With this sort of nonsense going on?


  • Victor Appleton II (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mknewman ( 557587 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:41AM (#56506241)
    I used to read the Tom Swift, Jr. series of novels as a kid, and was crushed to find out that "Victor Appleton was a house pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its successors, most famous for being associated with the Tom Swift series of books." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] This did not reduce my enjoyment of the books but did make it seem much more commercialized, as is this case, Drew Cloud may have provided some valuable information, but may have been slanted toward 'it's' ad clients.
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      There is a HUGE difference between using a name in a marketing campaign and making people believe he is real. They went over to fraud when they pretended he was real when people tried to contact him.
      And even in advertising, if they use it as a person who gives advice or information about the quality, it better be clear that that name is fake.

      If you say that you are e.g. Dr. Allen William Jones and you approve of a certain product, you better be that person even, or especially in advertising.

  • hear me out on this one. Yes, the media leans left on social issues (gay rights and abortion mostly). But for anything that really matters (e.g. economics) they're entirely pro corporate. Hell, it's come out that MSNBC, the supposed bastion of the left wing, actively blocked coverage of Bernie Sanders in favor of his pro-corporate rival Hillary. Also, there's every indication we bombed an anti-venom factory in Syria but not a single major news source covered that.

    These days in America if you want any ne
    • While you can. Youtube actively censors anything that isn't an "arm if the Democratic Party's left wing".

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @10:17AM (#56506433) Homepage Journal

      On some social issues they lean left. On healthcare, they usually depict "Single Payer" (that's what the NHS would look like if Thatcher had reformed it) as "leftist" or "far left". On Welfare they're continually wringing their hands saying it has to be cut to save the deficit. On Social Security they bought into the fiction that it's somehow going to go bankrupt and the only thing that can happen now is for all Millennials and Generation Xers to expect to never receive a penny.

      They're mostly right wing, but because the leaders of the Democratic Party think highly of their views, the Democratic Party usually ends up with most of the same policies, which means they end up supporting the Democratic Party by default. And because the Democratic Party is to the left of the Republican Party, they get portrayed as "liberals" with a "left wing bias".

      It's nuts.

      • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @10:48AM (#56506609)
        so they're still right wing there. The leaders of the Democratic party are right wing too. The mega corps have bought out everything, so they control the message. Hell, they guy who runs the Consumer Protection Bureau just openly admitted to accepting bribes [nytimes.com] and it was barely covered. NY Times, WAPO and the left wing Youtubers covered it. CNN buried it in an opinion piece [cnn.com]. You'd think this would be national news.
        • part of that is because if you disqualified anyone who took a bribe you'd have to replace almost everyone.
          • The just means the punishment is not enough.

            Bribery of public office is relatively easy to stop, you just need to have enforced and large punishments,
            As in mandatory jail time, confiscation of assets to a level of many times the bribe, banning from any public office, and public ridicule.

            Wont happen of course, but that is the solution to bribery, not saying 'everyone does it, so whatever'

            Remember, public office bribery is stealing from the public, because no one bribes for more than the value of what is gain

    • I'd hardly recommend anything by The Young Turks seeing how that lot started out pretty sane, but completely went off the deep end years ago. Their main host, Cenk Uygur, would be a left wing Alex Jones if it wasn't for that fact that unlike Alex, he isn't just playing the character of a raving loon, he actually is a complete raving loon.
      • Got any examples of them saying anything that is not true and then doubling down on it instead of issuing a correction like a proper journalistic outfit does, because I haven't seen them report on anything that wasn't veritably true. Hell, that's half the problem with Left Wing media. They've got journalistic principles, so even guy's like the Turks will present both sides a lot of time time. That Secular Talk guy goes out of his way to praise right wingers when they do something right, like when they stand
        • One thing that repeatedly springs to mind is is repeated denial of the Armenian genocide. The man's repeatedly denied the genocide over many years and still hasn't admitted that it really happened like any sane person or person with some level of journalistic integrity would. No, now he's just doing a "no comment" spiel because of one of his co-hosts being Armenian with relatives that were actually killed in said genocide.

          As for them somehow trying to be balanced, it's basically just the exact same spiel
    • Yes, the media leans left on social issues (gay rights and abortion mostly). But for anything that really matters (e.g. economics) they're entirely pro corporate

      "Pro-corporate" is left-wing too, you know. That fact that you apparently don't know indicates that you self-identify as left because that's what you want to be seen as.

      I used to be left. I now self-identify as egalitarian, because the left is an insane as the right, and I'd rather be a centrist than on either side.

      • when Clinton (Bill) moved the party to the right to get the money he needed to win the presidency. You didn't notice all the awful shit he did because the .com boom was happening and the economy was doing so well nobody noticed it. You noticed it in 2008 when his Wallstreet Deregulation finally caught up with us and the world economy collapsed....

        If you are actually left (meaning you believe food, shelter, health care, education & transportation are natural rights) then you are now _far_ left. If yo
        • you believe food, shelter, health care, education & transportation are natural rights

          Maybe that's what leftists used to believe. I now consider myself egalitarian. I refuse to be associated with HRC, feminism, antifa and all the other nutjobs.

          I cannot call myself "left" when the term is associated with irrational *AND* violent quacks. I've never advocated for shutting down opposing voices using the excuse "it's only censorhip if the government does it".

          The left sets cars on fire when they don't get their way. They prevent people from speaking because in some weird way they are afraid of ha

          • However, you can blame an entire political wing for things a small number of them do, so there's that.

            • However, you can blame an entire political wing for things a small number of them do, so there's that.

              I'm not blaming, I just refuse to associate with the left. Besides, it's not a "small number" of them that push feminism, is it? To me it looks like most of them.

              Most people are egalitarian. Ever wonder why egalitarianists don't support feminism?

              • I'm not blaming, I just refuse to associate with the left.

                As an empiricist, I'm interested in exactly what that means in the real world.

                Besides, it's not a "small number" of them that push feminism, is it? To me it looks like most of them.

                Most of us do believe that women are people, just as much as men are. I fail to see the problem with this view.

                Most people are egalitarian. Ever wonder why egalitarianists don't support feminism?

                Because they're stupid? Because they're very comfortable in the old g

                • Most of us do believe that women are people, just as much as men are.

                  That's the egalitarian view, and feminism as a movement is at odds with egalitarianism as a movement. One is for the equal treatment of everyone, the other is for affirmative action.

                  • Personally, I hang around with leftists, and you don't (as you said), so you'll understand that I think my observations are more reliable than yours. If you don't associate with feminists, you're getting your information from people who want to sell something. Ideally, it's people who want to report accurately and sell your eyeballs. There's plenty of organizations with more sinister purposes.

    • The entire mainstream media was for Hillary. It wasn't a "right wing" thing.

      I would say head to Youtube for alternative media, but damn if they haven't pretty much wiped them out by now. It's a pity, I had hope that they were the future of our Republic. It's really sad that our decentralized internet, tool of the people to speak truth to power, was taken over and centralized by corporations staffed with SJW leftists. I just wouldn't have expected that one.

  • Not new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cigaes ( 714444 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @09:57AM (#56506329) Homepage

    Nicolas Bourbaki asks me to tell you that he is not impressed.

    Really, how does it matter? What matters is how true and relevant what they wrote is. Knowing who they are may shed some light about that, especially when financial gain is involved, but it is only a proxy.

    • To me, the concern is that our news organizations not only failed to vet the statements of this man, but even his very existence.
    • The difference is with a person, we can maybe determine they are lying to promote a business. If people knew out of the gate that this was a corporate construct of PR, they'd know immediately to ignore everything that was said.

  • I'm glad, that in the era of fake news, the news organizations are fact checking each story they publish and not just blatantly copying each others feeds.

    • You forgot the /s at the end. People, albeit mostly the really dim witted ones, may actually start to believe that the media is professional enough to actually do fact checking.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For the "Washington Post" , CNBC, "The Boston Globe" and others to run stories based on this fictional person passing propaganda, is telling.

    The media today, does little if any due diligence or fact checking. When FakeNews get thrown around, it is also because of lazy and incompetent "journalist" who will take any source, to allow them to write a story fast and cheap.

  • Please don't tell me that Rob BigData is a pseudonym too!

  • But here's the question that comes up for me and it comes up in conjunction with another article I saw recently (no, I don't have a link) in which a passing mention was made along the lines that millennial wealth, housing, etc difficulties wasn't due to not being able to earn enough in absolute numbers, but earning enough in relation to the debt they carry (student loans).

    Which way is/was this figurehead steering? Is/was it steering? Why use a pseudo person for this? Doe sit make what is being presented

  • private student loans need to have bankruptcy or rules like max rate / max pay back time / min income aka if you are under this you pay 0 / etc.

    • Bankruptcy rules don't really change the amount of student debt. If you allow private student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy, all that happens is the interest rate for such loans increases to compensate. Students end up paying the same overall amount either way. In the no-bankruptcy case, the bankrupt student is on the hook for the bad loan. In the bankruptcy-allowed case, the student loan that got discharged via bankruptcy is paid for by all remaining students via higher interest.

      To t
      • This 1000 times.

        Making student loans dis chargeable on bankruptcy would be the single worst thing you could do to any and all responsible students.
        Why? It will greatly increase the cost of repayment to those who actually do repay their loans.

        (to the grandparent of the post)
        I know I know, its so very unfashionable to not just steal from others so you can fund your political studies 'course' which mostly involved backpacking through Uzbekistan instagramming it then discussing your deep insights over soy latte

  • So how is this any different than lobbyist groups targetting political entities for support of their interests, with mostly not-so-transparent financing from all-industry heavy hitters with money to spare in "deep marketing" and whatnot? What about Media conglomerates partially or totally owned by pollitically-inclined organizations? Or even TV channels, newspappers fully flavoured to a social entity? Isn't every part of the pollitical spectrum supposed to have the right to the same alloted audience? Or sho

  • In other news, Drew's composite girlfriend [washingtontimes.com] was unavailable for comment.
  • There's nobody named "Slashdot"? Aw, man.

  • From Matherson, quoted in the article: "For context, it is very common practice for online media companies to own or acquire additional media assets."

    Except you're not an online media organization. You're a finance company. Who sells student loans/refinancing. Who created a fictional character, to seem "just like you [the borrower]", and presented yourself as an independent person collating and commenting on news related to student loans.

  • Nicolas Bourbaki, the hydra of mathematics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk