Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
JOHANNESBURG - Technically speaking, Mark Zuckerberg has been on paternity leave. In late August his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave birth to their second child, a girl.

But though Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook Inc, stayed away from the office for a month after the delivery, he has been utterly unable to avoid what’s become a second full-time job: managing an escalating series of political crises.

In early September, Facebook disclosed that it sold $100 000 in political ads during the 2016 election to buyers it later learnt were connected to the Russian government.

Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia, the most senior Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have said they're considering holding a hearing, in which case Zuckerberg could be asked to testify.

Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller has made Facebook a focus of his investigation into collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump's campaign.

A company official says it's “in regular contact with members and staff on the Hill” and has “had numerous meetings over the course of many months” with Warner.

The company acknowledges that it has turned over records to Mueller, which suggests, first, that the special counsel had a search warrant and, second, that Mueller believes something criminal happened on Zuckerberg’s platform.

The Russia investigations complicate Zuckerberg’s efforts to shore up support for Facebook in the wake of a bitter election.

Even as the company enjoys record profitability - its market value has more than doubled since 2015, to $500billion (R6.6trillion), making Zuckerberg the world’s fifth-richest person - Facebook faces criticism for its role in distributing pro-Trump propaganda during the 2016 election.

On September 14, ProPublica reported that it had managed to purchase ads targeted at users who’d listed interests such as “Jew hater” and “How to burn Jews.”

Facebook quickly changed its ad system to prevent similar purchases, but the episode gives further ammunition to critics who worry that the company has grown too powerful.

Suspicious

Abroad, Facebook faces challenges from aggressive European antitrust regulators and governments suspicious of both its power and its treatment of user data.

The idea of a crackdown is catching on in the US, too, amid a larger backlash against Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg has become a big, enticing target for both liberal Democrats, who see him as a media-devouring monopolist, and for nationalist Republicans, who see an opportunity to rail against the company that embodies globalisation more than any other.

Since January, Zuckerberg has been on a tour of America that seems designed to combat those perceptions. He’s done laps at a Nascar track in North Carolina, sat in a big rig at a truck stop in Iowa, and jawed with workers at a fracking site in North Dakota.

The ongoing road trip, organised in part by David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s former campaign manager and the head of policy and advocacy at Zuckerberg’s philanthropic organization, is being documented by a former presidential photographer for Newsweek.

 - BLOOMBERG