The first 'fake news,' Francis said, was that created by the "crafty serpent" in the Book of Genesis, who used falsehood to tempt Eve into disobeying God.
"The strategy of this skilled 'Father of Lies' (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments," he said.
Eve's temptation by the serpent "brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation."
He pointed out how constant exposure to deceptive language can also have harmful consequences on our interior life, as illustrated by a quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky's the Brothers Karamazov.
"People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves."
So how do we defend ourselves from this evil, Francis asked. "The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth," which in Christianity is more than just a judgment of things as true or false, he said.
It's also more than just revealing things that are concealed, he continued: "Truth involves our whole life."
"Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall," he said. "In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: 'I am the truth.'"
"To this end, drawing inspiration from a Franciscan prayer, we might turn to the Truth in person," he concluded, offering the following prayer:
"Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.