CRITICS have been panned over the years as experts on skills they do not possess. For the arts, they’re doubtless a necessary evil, while still arousing a vague sense of distaste. They’re the fatties on the football terraces who shout at the players; the weirdos who get a bigger thrill from watching other people have sex.

But constructive criticism is doubtless valid, and many authors prefer it to being ignored. There are authors who eke out their earnings by criticising other authors (but not usually as harshly as non-authors do).

Most critics are responsible and helpful. Additionally, they are the voice of the consumer, as it were, rather than the producer. Some criticism, such as of television and radio programmes, also allows for fine writing and observations about wider society and culture.

This is all well and good. These critics are professionals, bought and paid for, so to say, and proven in their field.

The advent of the internet changed all this, widening the franchise to encompass the barely sentient. This is an excellent development if you are a fan of democracy, not so much if you abhor the mob. On balance, I guess it must be a good thing, even if a bit smelly.

The new enfranchisement of critics by and large involves products, but also newspaper journalism and books. Of the former, I’ve little to say, as I’ve never understood it.

We timorous hellboys of hackdom go where the mob goes. Sometimes, we lead them. Sometimes, we follow them. We stir them up. We stamp them down. The mob is our milieu. So, we must expect to hear their voices, below the line and elsewhere.

For those of us who labour in the muddy fields of opinion, in particular, this is all right and proper. It’s more problematic where genuinely professional news reporters are slammed for a lack of objectivity just because a truth they’re reporting harms the complainer’s cause.

In some ways, we opinion mongers and light essayists are exposed to the same jaundice: something is “a good piece of writing” if it contains opinions the critic agrees with, and “bad” where it’s the opposite. The quality of the prose has nothing to do with it.

For proper writers, who who write books and that, Amazon is where they get it in the neck or, alternatively, whatever part of the anatomy is associated with praise.

Here, critics have a wide sphere of expertise, coming fresh from praising a food blender to assessing your ten-part history of the Peloponnesian War. It’s a weird world where the more product reviews one reads the more lost one becomes. It cuts grass really well. It can’t cut long grass. It’s heavy. It’s light. Easy to construct. Impossible to assemble.

Then there are the fake reviews, notoriously Chinese, where the language often gives them away: “This clock is the best I ever eaten.”

Fake reviews have been less prevalent, but are an increasing problem, particularly for weel kent authors who attract malicious reviews from trolls.

As with newspaper comment, this is nothing to do with the writing or story, but scabrous sabotage occasioned by the work containing an opposing opinion or by the author’s wider views.

Now, campaigners are reportedly proposing to Amazon that authors and product-makers have the right to delete up to 10 per cent of online reviews. This runs the risk of genuine one-star reviews being deleted, but gives authors and others a chance to fight back against maliciously motivated trolls.

It’s censorship, Jim, but not as we know it. It’s censorship of the fake. You want to know where I stand on this. However, as a professional journalist of many years standing, I will wait to see what the ignorant mob thinks. Then I’ll follow along after them.

Joker in the package

THE modern area may be defined as one that makes the formerly simple far more difficult. Adjusting the brightness on your television, once achieved by turning a knob, is now more or less impossible.

Rather than try to adjust the brightness, many people just go out and buy a new television.

Another problem area is packaging. It would be interesting to see the number of strokes suffered by people trying to open a packet of biscuits.

Then there’s the amount of unnecessary packaging: wee wrappers on every item or sweetie; daft bags; a wee box for your toothpaste tube. It’s worse where this can’t be recycled, and now consumer group Which? has identified Pringles, the notoriously moreish crisps, as a prime offender here.

To be fair, it’s not so much the amount of packaging – they don’t individually wrap each crisp – but the type. All the same, many manufacturers are learning that, for environmentally aware customers today, less is moreish.

Five things we’ve learned this week

Now they’re talking of jellyfish and chips. The ghastly gelatinous invertebrates are the latest weird creatures touted as a substitute for species that traditionally make up our suppers. These ideas never come to pass. It’s haddock or nothing, I’m afraid.

Spiders are a thundering nuisance that should be banned. In the absence of legislation, experts advise that we leave oranges aboot the place, as the wee satanic swine dislike fruit. It’s their unbalanced, meat-only diet that makes them so horrible.

More awfulness from the dreadful world of nature: British gin is under threat from a bug which attacks juniper trees. The fungus-like pathogen invades the roots, starving them of nutrients. One worried mid-market paper branded the news “grim and chronic”.

NASA is plugging commercial brands to fund the International Space Station. First up will be Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair serum, which astronauts will pose with as they bob aboot. Probably not the job they envisaged when signing up for space.

Soon, folk will be wearing tiny “wind turbines” on their wrists. The nanogenerators will charge our mobiles as we swing our arms while walking. Not much use, however, to those who slouch along with their hands in their pockets.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.