Facebook news goes dark in Australia

Australians woke to empty news feeds on their Facebook pages Thursday morning, after the social media giant blocked all media content for users there.

The surprise blackout comes after weeks of escalation between Australia's government and big tech over who pays for content.

But it wasn't only news government health pages and emergency services had been scrubbed, too.

That sparked a storm of criticism online given the information is vital at the height of Australia's bushfire season and amid the global health crisis.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the decision was "wrong" and heavy-handed.

"But what today's events do confirm for all Australians is the immense market power of these media digital giants. These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape."

Facebook is responding to a new law expected to pass through Australia's parliament within days.

It would force them to pay local publishers for content making Facebook and Google strike commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms.

But Facebook's drastic reaction represents a split with Google.

Both had campaigned against the law and threatened to pull services in Australia.

Instead of going dark, though, Google has been signing its own pre-emptive deals with Australia's television networks and the likes of Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp.

Google declined to comment on Facebook's decision on Thursday.

Facebook said in a statement the law quote "fundamentally misunderstands" the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of attempting to comply or ban news content.

They've argued that news outlets voluntarily post their article links on Facebook, which allows them to sell more subscriptions and grow their audiences.