No, Ursula von der Leyen did not pledge to 'vaccinate' the European population against 'wrong thinking'

By: Emmi Kivi
May 31 2024

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No, Ursula von der Leyen did not pledge to 'vaccinate' the European population against 'wrong thinking'

Source: X/The People's Voice/Modified by Logically Facts


The Verdict Misleading

Von der Leyen’s analogy has been misrepresented. She did not speak of silencing “wrong thinkers” but pledged more action against foreign interference.

Claim ID bbab4627

The context

On May 14, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen raised concerns about foreign interference at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit. She pledged to establish a "European Democracy Shield" if re-elected ahead of the European Parliament election on June 6–9.

Von der Leyen's speech has sparked erroneous speculations about the new Commission initiative. Online users shared clips of the speech with captions like: "Video of Ursula Von der Leyen's speech at the democracy summit in Copenhagen, where she promises to "vaccinate" the EU population against "wrong thinking." 

Some online users shared the speech with an article by the People's Voice stating: "People in society who hold views that contradict the globalist narrative must have their minds "inoculated" against "wrongthink" according to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who explained that freethinking and free speech are threatening Agenda 2030 and must be consigned to history." The website is known for spreading fabricated and misleading stories. 

Logically Facts found that von der Leyen's analogy of a virus and vaccination was misrepresented. She did not speak of silencing "wrong thinkers" in Europe but called for more action against foreign interference and information manipulation.

In fact

Von der Leyen did not speak about "vaccinating" the European population or innoculating "wrong thinkers." Instead, she compared information manipulation to a virus and emphasized the importance of media literacy and pre-bunking when introducing the Democratic Shield initiative [from 13.43]: "Research has shown that pre-bunking is more successful than de-bunking. Pre-bunking is the opposite of de-bunking. In short, prevention is preferable to cure." 

Pre-bunking involves educating individuals on how to spot false claims before encountering them instead of exposing false claims, which is known as debunking. 

"Think of information manipulation as a virus. Instead of treating an infection once it has taken hold, that's the de-bunking, it is better to vaccinate, so that our body is inoculated. Pre-bunking is the same approach. Because disinformation relies on people passing it on to others – it is essential that people know what malign information's influence is and what the techniques are," von der Leyen stated [from 14:02].

Video of von der Leyen's speech at the Democracy Summit on May 14 speaking on the role of pre-bunking. (Source: Facebook) 

The speech did not mention any plans regarding censorship, compliance, or crackdowns on dissenting views of European citizens. On the contrary, von der Leyen highlighted the need to protect democratic societies and values against foreign meddling [from 2.59]: "And we need to build a strong coalition of the center to fight for our values and our democracy." 

She also noted the importance of personal freedoms, including the freedom of speech, when commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Danish constitution [from 3.08].

In the speech, von der Leyen raised concerns about cyberattacks, disinformation, and AI-generated content circulating in Europe, saying: "I believe Europe now needs its own dedicated structure on countering foreign Interference [from 11.22]." 

Von der Leyen also unveiled the first elements of the initiative on X (formerly Twitter).

Screenshot of von der Leyen's X post disclosing on the plans for the Democracy Shield, published May, 14. 
(Source: X

On detection, von der Leyen highlighted [from 10.28]: "Because nothing is as powerful as unveiling information manipulation. This requires first and foremost a free media."

The Democracy Shield would build on the existing EU regulations, including the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA) on online platforms and the new AI Act regulating AI technologies. The DSA has previously sparked similar speculations and erroneous claims, including the false notion that the EU's Digital Services Act constitutes a censorship law — also covered by Logically Facts. 

The verdict

Ursula von der Leyen did not speak of silencing "wrong thinkers" in Europe but highlighted the importance of democratic freedoms. By comparing information manipulation to a virus, she highlighted the importance of preventive pre-bunking and called for more action to counter foreign interference, by referring to a new initiative for the next Commission, the European Democracy Shield. Therefore, we have marked the claim as misleading.

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before