A longtime resident encounters the dark side of social media

Lynn Cripps

Neighbors is an occasional series, profiles of people who live in Bolton Hill, showing the talent and diversity of those who live among us. Nominations are welcome by emailing bulletin@boltonhillmd.org.

At 78, Lynn Cripps has lived in Bolton Hill half a century, 46 years in the same house. She feels she knows her neighborhood, and many of her neighbors, well. She loves the place.

So, she was startled to find herself cyberbullied on social media in December by someone who lives close by, then to have others all around town chime in, when most had never met her nor, likely, her angry neighbor. The posting degenerated into name-calling. In the parlance of the Internet, she had been “flamed” on Nextdoor.

At the root of it was the neighbor’s complaint that someone called the fire department when she was barbecuing on the porch of the apartment she rents, and that Cripps had complained to her landlord, whom Cripps says is a friend, about her barking dogs and noise.

Cripps says she was unaware of the fire incident and that likely another neighbor, seeing or smelling smoke, called BFD. There have been major house fires in the block of West Lanvale where Cripps and her critic live. Whatever the facts, it led to a personal attack on her. It is hard to respond to being called an evil racist online by someone you hardly know, Cripps said.

Nextdoor.com is a website founded in 2008, based in San Francisco. It solicits people to engage on neighborhood matters. It claims 1,437 participants in Bolton Hill. It’s a good place to report a lost cat, find a recommendation for a plumber or mover, or comment on a local issue. In July the company announced it would go public in a $4.3 billion deal.

“We encourage neighbors to have conversations about the issues that matter to them in a way that is constructive, civil, and builds community. You can, of course, think what you like, but on Nextdoor, conversations must remain civil,” Nextdoor says on its site. Supposedly moderated by volunteers, it is rare for an administrator to intervene. The incident involving Cripps and her neighbor remains on the site. “I worry that it paints a negative picture of the neighborhood,” she said.

“To be honest, I rarely go on Nextdoor, and I’m a novice about social media,” said Cripps. “ I’ve posted there to recommend a place to get pizza, stuff like that.” She is a retired social worker, a long-ago graduate of the University of Iowa who came to Baltimore in the sixties for her lawyer-husband’s job. She worked for 25 years in child and family services and for 24 years as an administrator of neuropsychiatry and medical psychology clinics run by Johns Hopkins University. She and her first husband have two adult children living in Tucson and Atlanta.

After a divorce she was married for 23 years to Dr. Thomas Cripps, a professor at Morgan State University and a recognized scholar on African American cinema. He died in 2018. Her passions have been the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, theater and tennis, which is how she and Tom Cripps met. More recently she has been active with Bolton Hill Samaritan Community and promoting Baltimore’s Black theater troupe Artscentric, which recently performed Dream Girls at Center Stage.

Since the pandemic began, she has taken regular “trash walks” with a friend “for exercise and purpose.” Together we pick up 200 to 300 pieces of debris (our specialty is plastic) per walk that otherwise would have ended up in storm drains and the Chesapeake Bay.”

And she is not above weighing in on controversy. In a letter published by the Baltimore Sun during the holidays, Lynn Cripps defended the “squeegee kids” who (to the annoyance of many) ply their trade at North and Mt. Royal Avenues. She calls them “industrious and friendly” and makes a point of giving them money when the opportunity arises.

–Bill Hamilton