Pope Francis said fake news was the work of the devil on Wednesday, comparing propagators to the snake that tempted Eve in the Book of Genesis.
In a speech delivered at the Vatican for World Communications Day, he said that the "crafty serpent" was the original incarnation of the spread of untruths.
"This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: There is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences," he said. "Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects."
The serpent's deception of Eve, convincing her to eat fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, triggered "the tragic history of human sin ... issuing in the countless of other evils committed against God, neighbor, society and creation," he said.
Reading a speech titled "'The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace", the pontiff called on followers to denounce "snake-tactics" employed by fake news writers who can "strike at any time."
Instead, he stressed that journalists should resist "feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop."
"If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news," he said.
Part of the solution, he added, was for journalists to focus less on the breaking stories of the day.
The pope called for "A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence."
His highly anticipated message followed a series of comments he made in December, in which he said that sensationalized news was a "grave sin that hurts the heart of the journalist and hurts others."
"You shouldn’t fall into the ‘sins of communication’: disinformation, or giving just one side, calumny that is sensationalized, or defamation, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today," he said.