When Twitter and Facebook were launched around 2006 they were hailed as a breakthrough for "genuine free speech", as well as a major challenge to mainstream media (MSM) which, according to critics on both the Left and Right, "only allowed the right sort of people, with the right sort of opinions, to have their say".
YouTube, which was launched in 2005, was also hailed as a champion of free speech that would enable anyone with a voice or an opinion to get it out there.
Yet today those revolutionary, era-changing vehicles are being accused of exactly the same deplatforming tactics and control as the MSM. No one should be surprised: revolutions always eat their children, and the new masters always replicate the practices and restrictions of their predecessors.
The people who lauded the new vehicles 15 years ago and jumped aboard to have their voices and views heard are now angry with them.
Twitter and Facebook are accused of banning free speech and expelling users who don't express the "right sort" of opinions.
What most of those angry people don't seem to understand is that the rules of free speech are always set by the owners/providers of the vehicles/platforms, who always have an eye on their financial stream, advertisers and users.
Free speech is rarely free. Advertisers are primarily interested in what they can sell to the users, and if the users are in the wrong sort of demographic and not willing to dip their hand into their own pockets enough, then revenue dries up.
And if the content of a platform is deemed responsible for drying up the revenue and driving away those who are more willing to dip into their own pockets, then the owners must either control/restrict certain users or change the overall content.
One of the reasons Katie Hopkins was removed from Twitter was because she was a threat to the overall brand. She used the platform entirely for her own ends and fell into the trap of believing that she was too big (she had over one million followers) to be taken down.
But when advertisers and users are increasingly spooked by a particular presence, it does have a knock-on effect.
Twitter won't worry too much about her followers leaving, partly because most of them won't (they use the platform for other reasons, too) and partly because they're probably not a key asset in terms of advertisers.
Hopkins has moved to another site, Parler, which bills itself as a social networking platform "where the power resides in the people".
It has nowhere near the reach of either Twitter or Facebook and is clearly aimed at those who would be regarded as well to the Right on the political spectrum.
That said, Hopkins' shift to it has clearly attracted attention and increased its user numbers.
Coincidentally, Parler also announced that it would be partnering with the conservative pundit (and frequent Fox News contributor) Dan Bongino, who has acquired a stake in the company and is "taking a leadership role". And therein lies a potential problem. Once there are "leadership" roles when it comes to free speech platforms (particularly when those roles are linked to people with a financial stake in the platform), then the platform sets out a strategy and direction, and those are usually accompanied by rules and restrictions for the users and followers of the platform.
It won't be long I suspect until the people now jumping to Parler will be jumping up and down in anger when Parler begins to impose a central policy and direction.
Many of its UK users, for example, are Brexiteers, who jumped in anger from David Cameron to Nigel Farage, to Theresa May, to Boris Johnson - and now many are angry with him because of how he has handled the Covid-19 crisis.
To be honest, I wasn't particularly worried when MSM was challenged by the arrival of the new social media platforms. Newspapers and broadcasters always need to be challenged by new kids on the block. But I was surprised by the failure of the new vehicles to produce and deliver news of the same, let alone better, quality than what was already provided by MSM.
Opinion was easy. Anybody can post or tweet an opinion. But that opinion was rarely backed up with the work of a new generation of journalists and investigative reporters regularly breaking stories and challenging authority.
Yes, there are exceptions and some very important voices doing wonderful work, but generally speaking a new golden age of journalism has failed to emerge, even though distribution and production of hard news and investigative uncovering and drilling-down has probably never been easier.
What has proliferated, though, is a veritable forest of self-styled 'news' sites (that like to bill themselves as offering real, true, unvarnished, honest news) catering entirely for people who have already made up their mind, taken a stance and who don't particularly want to be challenged by anything which unsettles their world view.
This is echo chamber stuff, which aspires to nothing higher than gathering 'likes' for each new tweet or post. In most cases these sites cannot offer much more than that because they don't have the resources to fund their own investigation and analysis.
But news isn't news just because someone tweets it as news. And where is the free speech (which is supposedly cherished by most of these sites) when they tend to have a house policy of blocking or muting anyone who challenges them?
Personally, I think the greatest challenge to free speech is from those in the echo chambers who don't accept that there is always more than one side to a debate. They don't want to hear another view; they don't want to concede the possibility of being wrong; they don't want any voices putting out properly thought-through alternatives. All they want to do is drown out anything they oppose and ensure their base doesn't hear it.
My fear is that we are well down the rabbit hole and into a world where all we hear is opinion at the expense of debate. And in a world without proper debate, those who win elections can do whatever they like.
I'm not persuaded that free speech should include naked bigotry, hatred and the blind acceptance of the argument that "it's my opinion and I'm entitled to it".
Every view and belief must be open to challenge and subject to debate, internally as well as externally.
By the way, echo chambers are not in themselves vehicles of free speech, because most of those vehicles are owned and controlled by individuals with a specific agenda.
Ironically the growth of social media 'news' sites has worried me more than the problems which once beset MSM (and, by the way, I'm not blind to its continuing faults). There is a very important role to be played by the new media and I hope it can still be played.
Sadly I think that role has been hijacked by too many people who just want news they didn't like replaced with something they find more acceptable.