Social media under fire • Trump v Biden • Brexit and the City • Fishing woes

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A SECOND WAVE of covid-19 is now washing over Europe. Many governments are reimposing lockdown restrictions: shutting restaurants and introducing quarantines and curfews. Their claims to be “following the science” are becoming harder to sustain as scientists themselves argue over the best approach. One group proposes that the contagion be allowed to spread freely among younger and healthier people while measures are taken to protect the most vulnerable from infection. Another sees this as relying on a “dangerous fallacy”. There is widespread agreement, however, that the pandemic has exposed the inadequacy in many countries, such as Britain, of care provision for the elderly. The pandemic has also brought political benefits for governments seen as having handled it well, such as China’s, which has presided over an impressive economic rebound, and New Zealand’s, where the Labour Party of Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, has just been re-elected in a landslide.


In America and across the world, Facebook, Twitter and other social media are buffeted by a category 5 hurricane of popular outrage directed at unaccountable tech firms for supposedly destroying society. In Myanmar Facebook has been used to incite genocidal attacks against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. Samuel Paty, a teacher in France who used cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to talk about free speech, was murdered after a social-media campaign against him. These days social-media firms are removing more content. But debate rages as to whether they are making the right choices. They and other big tech firms face a backlash from customers keen to grasp control of their own data, and from governments: this week America’s Department of Justice launched a federal antitrust lawsuit against Google, the first time it has taken on big tech since it went after Microsoft 20 years ago.


Ahead of America’s presidential election on November 3rd, Joe Biden’s opinion-poll lead in voting intentions over Donald Trump has held remarkably steady, and he remains more popular than Mr Trump. Many Americans will welcome the end of a campaign that has been exhausting—and expensive. Around 50m votes have been cast early, with registered Democrats more than one-and-a-half times as likely to have voted as registered Republicans—which puts their party at something of a disadvantage. Still Mr Biden is the favourite to become America’s next president. That is bad news for Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, famously dubbed “Britain Trump” by the American incumbent. A toxic election campaign has added to disillusionment with politics. Across the world some on both left and right are withdrawing from it altogether, retreating into internal exile. Even that carries risks.


Fraught trade negotiations between Britain and the EU continue, leaving open the possibility that Britain will end its “transition” period with no agreement covering its future relationship with the EU. The cost of a “no deal” Brexit would be high—and could be easily avoided. Brexit has already robbed the City of London of much of its swagger. Brexiteers argue that a City cut free from the EU’s red tape can be a more outward-looking entrepot. For now, though, the headlines are all about what London is set to lose. In fact, the extent of damage to London’s financial centre is largely settled and is noticeable but not disastrous. But a no-deal outcome would make it hard to fulfil the British government’s ambition to turn the country into a hothouse in which to grow technology companies with trillion-dollar valuations.


The scale of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing around the world is becoming apparent. It accounts for a staggering 20-50% of the global catch. That is one reason why fish stocks are plummeting. Operators of the vessels are likely to be committing other crimes as well, such as smuggling, and to be abusing their crews. Dodgy fishing drives a harpoon through efforts to make seafood supplies sustainable. In better news for conservation, some national parks in Africa are making progress in protecting animals from poachers, thanks to public-private partnerships. Humans have also threatened wildlife with their penchant for erecting fences in creatures’ way. Smarter fences can help (not all wire needs to be barbed, for example). But a clearer picture is needed of where fences are; many old ones need to be removed.

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