Alice Jones: So much bitterness and hostility in just a few smudged, shaded lines

IMHO: The first sketch to come out of the hearing of Chris Huhne and
his ex-wife Vicky Pryce this week spoke a thousand words.

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I've always been idly fascinated by courtroom art – all those soft pastel lines and unfocused, unfinished little vignettes where everyone has flushed cheeks and fuzzy hands.

It seems like such an old-fashioned rigmarole when Twitter is spooling out hundreds of word pictures a second from the press benches and public galleries. What's the point? Now I know.

The first sketch to come out of the hearing of Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce this week spoke a thousand words. In court on charges of perverting the course of justice – Pryce allegedly arranged to take three penalty points for her then-husband when he was caught speeding nine years ago – the co-accused are pictured separated by a gulf of grey upholstery and some nakedly hostile body language.

She is ramrod-backed, wrists primly crossed, ready to take the rap. He has his back huffily turned and legs forbiddingly entwined as he prickles away from his wife of 26 years in grim petulance: the Hunchback of Westminster Magistrates. It's an absurd pose, a schoolboy cartoon of being in a bad temper. It's also, clearly, the pose of a man with nothing left to lose – affair revealed, marriage destroyed, job lost and now, potentially, the prospect of a spell in jail. Why even bother, that bent charcoal spine seems to say, keeping up appearances of cordiality when the public eye has already seen the worst?

You can almost hear the strains of Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and see the thought bubbles above their heads. "Hmm. Never thought it would go quite this far" for her; something unprintable in a black cloud for him. The beauty of the sketch, though, is that it doesn't require captions. Lucian Freud himself could not have captured the unspoken emotions that bristle beneath the flesh more vividly.

* Two words guaranteed to ruin any holiday before you have even boarded the plane? TripAdvisor. For a website dedicated to getting away from it all, it seems hellbent on bringing browsers back to earth. Think you've booked your dream holiday? Behold the mouldy shower curtain of Room 456! Gasp at the tale of the surly waiter in the pool bar! Avoid the rubbery eggs at breakfast at all costs! It's an ever-spooling nightmare of disgruntlement and horrible candid cameraphone shots, determined to rain on your sunshine parade.

Given that 50 million people visit the American site every month, there is clearly a demand for this kind of consumer-led reviewing, and given that very little in life is as dispiriting as a bad holiday, a democratic right to reply is a good thing.

Still, I avoid it as assiduously as I do Center Parcs at half term. It's not just the bilious onslaught of so many negative reviews in one place – although I've always thought that TripAdvisor is where the bitter and pernickety go to have fun, a holiday camp from trolling around in comment threads and sending abusive tweets, perhaps .

It's the positive ones, too. Cynically, I wonder which holidaymakers find time to go online to sing the praises of bed linen and bread baskets, and view any overly glowing write-up with suspicion.

TripAdvisor insists the number of fraudulent reviews is "extremely low" but at least one has slipped through the net. This week, Helen Griffiths took out a public notice in The Times to apologise for a series of damning critiques she had written about The Good Life, a vegetarian restaurant in Shrewsbury. "Staff cold and unattentive", ran the gripe on TripAdvisor. "There were hairs in my quiche".

The problem was, she had never actually visited the restaurant. Now married to the former partner of the restaurant's owner, Joanna Langfield, she used the mighty clout of TripAdvisor as a weapon to wage a personal war.

It is Griffiths who has ended up with quiche on her face but the stench of that stinking review lingers. Last autumn The Good Life saw profits fall by a quarter. How many other business owners have had their livelihoods affected by the online falsehoods of rivals? And how many more have ripped off consumers, having oversold themselves with false praise?

TripAdvisor has already been ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority to change the wording on its website, where it claims to offer "honest and trusted" reviews. The truth is, the only honest review you can trust is old-fashioned, word-of-mouth – from human beings.

www.twitter.com/alicevjones

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