The FTC may be coming for Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg

The federal government is considering whether Facebook unfairly wields its powers against upstarts.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his right-hand confidante COO Sheryl Sandberg may be deposed under oath by federal investigators, according to The Wall Street Journal. The FTC is considering whether the company has unfairly used its power to squash independent competition.

The social media giant is under investigation alongside other tech companies including Google and Amazon. Regulators are concerned that Facebook has too strong a grip on the social media industry and buys up any apps rising in popularity, like WhatsApp and Instagram, or aggressively attacks ones that aren't willing to sell, like Snapchat.

Facebook is hard to stop — It's been revealed in the past that Facebook used a mobile VPN app called Onavo to collect information on the apps that people frequently use on their phones. The company used that data to learn that WhatsApp was rising in popularity across the globe, and ultimately spent $17 billion to snatch up the company. When it tried to acquire Snapchat but was rebuffed, Facebook declared war, copying the popular Stories feature into Instagram, which quickly became more popular there due to Instagram's sheer scale.

Facebook has long rejected the idea that its behavior is anticompetitive. It often argues that Instagram and WhatsApp wouldn't have reached their current size without the support of Facebook. Skeptics of that argument point to Snap's continued growth as evidence that the argument is wrong. Snapchat could have potentially been even more popular than it is today had Facebook not copied its features into Instagram before it had a chance to release an app refined for global markets.

At Facebook's size, and with its amount of money, any competition has a hard time growing without the company catching sight.

The argument for action — Critics, including free-market economists, believe that the economy would be better off as a whole if Facebook were punished and maybe even forced to split off Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook would have to find new ways to innovate rather than using its money to buy competition or copy their features into its own apps. Everyone would potentially become bigger. And without revenue coming from Instagram, the company would have a stronger incentive to clean up the main Facebook site of misinformation and hate speech in order to avoid users leaving. Instagram now accounts for more than a quarter of Facebook's total revenue, or $20 billion last year, and many people still don't realize the two companies are affiliated.

It's not clear when the FTC's deposition would happen, or whether Facebook will try to prevent it.