Dear Commons Community,
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. Drew Cloud’s story was simple: He founded the website, an “independent, authoritative news outlet” covering all things student loans. He surveyed loan companies and students for The Student Loan Report to provide the most recent news and information. He became ubiquitous on all things regarding student loans. The only problem is that he is not real. He is the made-up character of a student-loan refinancing company. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Educaiton:
“LendEDU, the student-loan refinancing company that created a fictional expert who was widely quoted by media outlets, has apologized for hiding the fact that it created “Drew Cloud.”
That announcement was posted on the company’s website, the Student Loan Report, on yesterday.
“I want to apologize for a couple things,” wrote Nate Matherson, chief executive of LendEDU, the parent company of the Student Loan Report. “We never disclosed that ‘Drew Cloud’ was a pen name that represented a group of us writing these posts. I really regret that. We are proud of our personal backgrounds and where they have brought us today. We should’ve chosen to be clear about who was authoring the posts. We have made a change on the site, effective immediately, to use each author’s real name for every post. We will also retroactively notate posts by Drew Cloud.”
That statement comes after The Chronicle published an article on Tuesday that revealed Cloud was a fiction, despite having authored numerous reports and spoken to media outlets over email as if he were a real human being.
Cloud recently made headlines for writing a report that suggested that nearly one in five students was investing extra student-loan money in cryptocurrencies. He had published similar surveys in the past that often drew attention.
Before Drew Cloud was scrubbed from the Student Loan Report website, on Monday, he was listed as the site’s founder — complete with an elaborate backstory. He was described as having “a knack for reporting throughout high school and college where he picked up his topics of choice.” There was a photo, too, which Matherson said on Wednesday was one of his friends. “When we pictured what Drew Cloud looked like, we pictured a friend of ours from college, so we used his photo (with his permission) to round out the pen name,” he wrote.
Matherson said in the statement that LendEDU created the character as the main author of the site and to be a “shared pen name through which we could share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face while funding their education.”
He also defended the accuracy of the content and stories on the site, saying, “all of the data we published on The Student Loan Report was vetted, accurate, and licensed from the related polling companies.”
Cloud had been quoted in many media outlets, some of which added notes to their articles following the publication of The Chronicle’s story.
Matherson told The Chronicle that he was unsure whether the Student Loan Report would continue to operate. And he said he had updated the website with the statement in an effort “to address our mistakes and to offer additional context.”
God save us from those who use the Internet for their self-serving purposes and prey on the vulnerable.