Sexual health safety is important but so is the safety of your sexual health information. There is a lot of misinformation around - sometimes from people who accidentally get their facts wrong and sometimes from people intentionally trying to mislead you - so it's important to ask yourself, “how reliable is the information I'm finding?”
Where did it come from?
Can you see who the organisation that created the site is?
What are their values?
Are they faith-based?
A website's information may be tailored to the organisation’s values and beliefs - for example, a faith-based group may not expand on all the options for contraception or abortion. It's important to look at who is running the site you're looking at. Legitimate organisations and businesses should have information about themselves, their values and their mission statement on their website. Look for an 'about us' section.
How up-to-date is the information?
What is the date of publication?
Books will have a date that it was published; websites should have a date they were last updated or a copyright date. Sometimes information will stay the same for a few years but often it can change frequently or just need a small update. Check how current it is. If the information you're looking at is more than a few years old it may be good idea to look for something more recent in case things have changed.
Is it Australian?
Lots of great sites can be informative and give a huge range of relevant and correct facts. However, if you are looking specifically into law, regulation, services, or costs it's best to ensure that your site is Australian and/or specific to your state. Ensure your information is relevant by location.
Does the organisation have contact details?
Good sexual health education sites will have been created by trusted organisations or government departments; these sites should provide their contact details. This allows their readers to ask more questions, submit a query or provide advice for their site. Check out their deets!
Where is the site getting its information?
If you see a statistic quoted, or health or medical information, it should be referenced if it's on a reliable website, otherwise you don't know where it's coming from. The author of the site could have made it up. Look for sources like government departments, academic journals, professional bodies, universities, or bodies like the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) or the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), and try to check the original source if you have time to make sure the website you've found isn't just taking pieces of information out of context.
Do your statistics add up?
Be careful of the information you get - some sites may not be using correct or up to date statistics. If you are unsure, check it against other sites or with the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) or other respected statistics bodies. If you need it for school then the ABS is the best way to get accurate and reliable population-based information.
Who controls what is on the site?
Some sites can be changed by users, like Wikipedia. While it can be a great source of information, it can also be easily edited by people; be careful of these sites, as someone might be steering you in the wrong direction. Stick to sites that are managed solely by the organisation. Wikipedia can be a great place to start but try and use it as a pointer to more legitimate sources of information. If you can edit it, don’t bet on it.
Who made that YouTube video?
Anyone can upload YouTube videos so make sure they are legit. Do they lead to a website or provide information about the author? Don’t avoid YouTube for your education, a lot of people choose to teach this way - just check up on who you're watching. Check out Laci Green, for example, for some top quality sexual health education on YouTube.
Is there funding for the website?
Anyone can design and upload a website these days. Look for who is paying for the website - is it funded by a government department, university, professional body, or respectable non-profit?