Most of us ignore Facebook friend suggestions. They often appear through some tenuous link via a FB friend that you haven’t seen or heard of since school. Or worse still, it’s through a connection with an old work acquaintance you never liked in the first place.
So where the majority of people wouldn’t even bother to press the button to make a friend request; it takes a special kind of person to travel 5000 miles to meet them in the flesh. Yet, that’s exactly what 24-year-old Victor Van Rossem did when Facebook displayed a 49-year-old bearded stranger as a ‘suggested friend’.
The student from Belgium literally traveled all the way to Austin, Texas to meet the man, (an artist named Neal D Retke) just because the social network’s algorithm suggested they become friends. This peculiar travel narrative has been doing the rounds on social media of late.
‘I was intrigued ’ Victor said in a recent interview, ‘Facebook suggested we become friends, and I thought that was pretty absurd.”. However, after spending a little time looking through Neal’s pictures, he became more and more interested in the artist’s life.
“I became fascinated by him. He had a long beard and looked a little unusual. He did art performances and paintings of mythical creatures and strange beasts which only made me more interested in him.”
With a truly adventurous spirit, Victor finally decided that he wanted to meet Neal. He tried contacting him on Facebook, but Neal did not respond. Not to be disheartened, Victor set off to visit Neal in person and ask if he wanted to be friends the old fashioned way.
“These days you can be friends with anyone anywhere, just by clicking that friend request button. I wanted to take it back to the real world,” Victor explained.
And there began a 5,000-mile trip along with his mate, 27-year-old Bran Van Lee. The two brought a video camera with them to document the journey.
Upon reached Austin, the two friends spent a week trying to track Neal down. They even resorted to putting up posters that stated: “Do you know or have you seen this man? Facebook said we could be friends. Please help!”. Other modes of publicity included wearing t-shirts with ‘Neal D Retke for President’ printed on them.
“At first we thought our chances of finding him were very slim, but then we visited some places in Austin that we knew he liked to go – and we eventually found someone who knew him,” Victor revealed.
It was suggested that they might strike gold at find at a local book signing, and that was where Victor finally got to meet the stranger that Facebook suggested could be his friend. “We were nervous when we first saw him,” Victor said. “We didn’t know how he would react – but after we explained the whole thing he just laughed and said “well, you found me” as if he was expecting us.”
With both Victor and Neal being on the eccentric side, the two hit it off immediately. Victor stayed in Texas for 3 weeks having a great time with his new artistic friend. “We had a lot of fun with Neal, and I consider him a real friend. We are still in touch through Facebook, and he might be coming to visit us next summer.”