Liberal anti-monopoly activists and Democrats are pressing for the government to prosecute Big Tech CEOs and top executives for monopolistic behavior and illegal activity that they say has gone egregiously unchecked.

The liberal antitrust activists are calling on the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission to criminally investigate and prosecute prominent tech leaders for hurting advertisers, investors, and some users by flouting the law while enriching themselves. 

The activists, led by the American Economic Liberties Project, a liberal think tank focused on antitrust issues, in recent letters to the agency have pointed to evidence of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top company executives engaging in fraudulent advertising practices, insider trading, and an illegal price-fixing deal with Google in the online ads space.

"There's an understanding in the public and the government that large corporations like the tech companies have operated above the law for a long time and so going after individual CEOs and executives is key to correcting bad behavior," said Sarah Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project.

"The new crop of antitrust leaders in the government are really committed to aggressively enforcing the law when it comes to the Big Tech companies, and their executives in particular, in ways we haven't seen in a long time," Miller said.


Politicians of both parties routinely bash Big Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, but trying to put individual CEOs and executives behind bars has thus far been considered a step that is too aggressive and unfair.

Liberal antitrust activists and some Democrats say they are trying to change the status quo by presenting new evidence of wrongdoing by tech leaders while trying to use individual criminal prosecution, or at least the threat of it, to drastically change the culture of monopolistic behavior in Silicon Valley.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday called on the Justice Department and the SEC to open criminal and civil investigations into Facebook and its top executives for allegedly misleading investors and customers by grossly exaggerating the reach of its advertisements, which is a core aspect of Facebook’s business model.

“These allegations, if true, could represent … breathtakingly illegal conduct by one of the world’s largest social media companies,” Warren wrote in the letter.

Furthermore, top antitrust officials within the Justice Department and the FTC have in the past few months expressed a heightened interest in holding top executives at companies accountable for bad behavior through criminal prosecution. 

Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced in October that individual accountability will be the agency's first priority when corporate misconduct occurs while also forming a Corporate Crime Advisory Group.

Vanita Gupta, the third in command at the Justice Department, said during a speech in September that the agency is particularly focused on criminally prosecuting top executives who violate the antitrust laws by colluding to fix prices or wages.

The trade commission, led by Democratic chairwoman Lina Khan, also announced last month that it would expand its criminal referral program to hold corporate executives accountable for criminal behavior relevant to consumer protection and antitrust investigations.

Miller and other liberal antitrust activists say that Facebook, for example, likely used criminal activity to exploit its market power and that key executives likely profited in a personal capacity from illicit activities such as inflating Facebook’s advertising reach and securities fraud.

In a recent letter to the Justice Department, the FTC, and the SEC, Miller and her team said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likely lied under oath to Congress about violating a legal anti-monopoly agreement his company agreed to with the FTC in 2012. 

The letter also said that Zuckerberg has participated in insider trading by using his advanced knowledge of the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal to accelerate his selling of Facebook stocks.

“The halo is off and there is no longer patience in the government for Tech CEOs and the harm their actions have caused,” said Jason Kint, a longtime Big Tech antagonist and CEO of digital content trade association Digital Content Next.

“The antitrust officials at the state and federal level are looking for individual responsibility, and based on the current evidence, there’s a good chance the DOJ and states will start going after executives,” he added.


However, many antitrust lawyers and former top antitrust government officials are highly skeptical of the evidence and legal justifications needed to criminally prosecute Big Tech CEOs and other corporate executives.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and bring criminal charges against CEOs because you don’t like them,” Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division under former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner.

“I haven’t seen all the allegations against Facebook and Google executives, but it’s no joke to go after them like this. There’s a very high bar for evidence, which in theory could exist, but I haven’t seen it yet,” Delrahim added.

Another top former antitrust enforcer, Republican Bill Kovacic, who chaired the FTC under President George W. Bush, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Justice Department’s new top antitrust enforcer, Jonathan Kanter, were to pursue criminal prosecution of Big Tech CEOs, given his past track record and rhetoric, but indicated such actions could be an overreach.

“Criminal prosecution would send a chill down the spine of every big company and executive. Nobody would want to be the first to walk down the perp walk,” said Kovacic, who is now a professor of antitrust at George Washington University. "It’s extremely heavy artillery to use."

“It might be a useful tool for the government to employ, but it wouldn’t work and isn’t recommended without a broader public discussion on this issue first. There should be a ferocious debate before prosecution happens,” he added.

Nevertheless, Kovacic said the business community, including the Big Tech companies, have to take the prospect of criminal prosecution of executives seriously because of the aggressive approach to antitrust enforcement that top officials in the Biden administration are pursuing.

Conservative antitrust lawyers say that any current attempts to lock up Big Tech CEOs are likely to be pie in the sky.

“The bar for criminal prosecution is much higher than for civil complaints. It’s so much harder to bring forth criminal cases without really strong evidence of egregious behavior,” said Neil Chilson, acting chief technologist at the FTC for a year during the Trump administration.


This attempt to go after [Big] Tech CEOs seems more of a scare tactic, a jawboning threat that doesn’t have real teeth to it. It seems like an absurd attempt to use antitrust tools to make claims of criminal behavior that don’t exist,” Chilson added, who is now a senior research fellow on tech issues at the Charles Koch Institute, a libertarian research organization.