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Pope Francis says spreading fake news is a sin and compares it to eating feces

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. AP

In an interview with a Belgian Catholic weekly publication released Wednesday, Pope Francis criticized the spread of fake news in graphic terms, comparing it to coprophagia, according to a translation of the transcript published by the Vatican.

Coprophagia is the act of eating one’s own feces.

Francis also compared “disinformation” from the media to coprophilia, or an interest in feces, often for sexual arousal.

“Disinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do,” Francis told Tertio, the Belgian magazine.

Francis’ comments were part of a broader critique of the news media, which he said carried “a very great responsibility” because of its ability to help shape public opinion. Because of this, he said, the press are the “builders of a society” and face a particular set of temptations.

In particular, Francis, who included himself as a person who uses the media to spread his opinion, the press should avoid slander, especially in politics, and defamation. The pope used the example of uncovering and publishing mistakes from a person’s past after they have already been punished by the justice system as a “harmful” sin.

But Fancis’ sharpest remarks came in his warning to the press to avoid publishing disinformation and covering only scandals.

Failing to include relevant information or facts in a story prevents consumers from being able to make a “serious judgment,” and covering “scandal” and “ugly things” is akin to eating feces, he said.

“Since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, it can do great harm,” he said.

Francis apologized if he had caused any offense by using such graphic words but said it was necessary to convey his point.

Scrutiny of the impact of fake news has exploded since the Nov. 8 election of President-elect Donald Trump, with many saying it had helped his campaign. Others are calling on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit to do more to prevent false stories from spreading.

Just this Sunday, a man was arrested after entering a Washington, D.C. pizzeria with an assault rifle to “self-investigate” fake news stories of a child trafficking ring involving Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the Washington Post.

Francis ended his comments on a positive note, however, saying that the media “can construct and do immense good.”

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