Police on Monday briefly detained and charged vulgar YouTube prankster Nathan Bartling, aka "My Mate Nate", with trespassing on railway land and damaging railway property by placing coins on a rail track for trains to run over.
The legal action came after Mr Bartling posted a video on his YouTube channel My Mate Nate on July 16 in which he claimed he set out to test the durability of coins from several countries by placing them on railway tracks so trains would run over them.
He specified he did not use Thai coins, which could have resulted in lese majeste charges.
American Nathan Bartling, best known by his online alias as 'My Mate Nate', faces charges of trespassing on railway land and damaging railway property by placing coins on a rail track for trains to run over. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
The video sparked widespread criticism accusing Mr Bartling of reckless behaviour, setting a bad example for youngsters and showing no regard for train passenger safety. He later removed the video.
On Monday, Mr Bartling visited the headquarters of the State Railway of Thailand, and formally apologised.
He claimed his only intention was to test the coins' strength. Authorities are considering pressing more charges under the Criminal Code.
- Earlier report: 'My Mate Nate' Bartling faces charges
The stunt with the coins was not the first time the American has found himself in the spotlight. Among his videos have been one making fun of the English skills of Thai students and another showing a cat being made to fight a scorpion.
Mr Bartling's detractors are many and vociferous. Their latest act is a petition to the government to remove the visa of the noisome American, and throw him out of the country.
The Change.org petition at goo.gl/e59Rno had attracted more than 58,000 supportive signatures by midnight Monday.
He is impervious to criticism, his "apologies" are weaselly and arguably insincere "explanations" of offensive actions, and even his comments on his undeniable law-breaking with the railways are far more smart-aleck than smart. He posted the SRT's statement on the coins on the track with this bland reply: "Good to know. Thanks for helping us understand."
In Mr Bartling's posts, the problems with his coins on the rails are, his words, "the drama that happened".
The frequently offensive American has turned a part-time gig of YouTube video-making into a job, already earning handsome profits at YouTube alone.
He has 3.3 million followers on the Google-owned service, and his videos attract up to 10 million viewers each. Viewing a video one time triggers up to 17 adverts - each resulting in a small payment to Mr Bartling. If a viewer clicks on an advertisement, it's a much bigger payoff.
Thai law requires internet-based workers to have a work permit, which he has never had. He said he is seeking a work permit to work at My Mate Nate Studio and expects to get it soon.
But in addition to his apparently illegal online work, Mr Bartling also runs a "souvenir" business from his various websites including YouTube, where he advertises and sells "My Mate Nate merchandise" such as caps (400 baht) T-shirts (350 baht) and, weirdly, a branded drone model that has his cartoon image on the top. It costs 1,990 baht.
Mr Bartling admits he has never had a work permit. But, merchandise sales aside, he has a non-trivial income from his online activities.
It is impossible to pinpoint that income. Industry watchers Tubefilter.com figures that the 1,000 top-earning YouTube channels in the world receive an annual average income from Google of $23,000, or more than 800,000 baht. Mr Bartling's viewers, subscribers and commenters are well above the average required to earn that figure.
But there's more. Mr Bartling's Facebook account has nearly a million followers (997,137, as of midnight Monday). He receives advertising commissions on that site, and he also uses Facebook to sell his merchandise.
An actual website touts his YouTube-Facebook sites and - no surprise - sells his merchandise. It also promotes his original business ideas such as for-hire video production. And his merchandise.
He doesn't bother much with Twitter, where he occasionally posts under a different name, or Instagram, where he does little but post photos leading to his main business, the YouTube videos.
So far, the 24-year-old YouTuber has been legally charged with two offences under the SRT Act - illegal entry onto State Railway of Thailand (SRT) premises and causing damage to the rail track and SRT property.
The video was shot 1.5km from Ban Thap Chang Station in Prawet district on the eastern line, towards Chachoengsao and Aranyaprathet stations.
An initial check by police and SRT officials found up to 38 marks left by the crushed coins on tracks.
They also discovered a coin believed to be from his video, Prawet district police chief Alongkorn Sirisongkram said.
If further examination finds his act caused serious damage, Mr Bartling will face criminal charges of encroaching on state land and causing property damage, Pol Col Alongkorn said.
If he is charged and found guilty, he could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of 14,000 baht. Such an act is illegal and could even "cause an accident", Pol Col Alongkorn said.
SRT deputy director Thanongsak Pongprasert said it is important that he "take responsibility for his behaviour and make amends to Thai society."
In a press conference Monday, Mr Bartling said he "hears people whisper" when he goes out.
"I could have got a flight home, but I'm not running from the problem. I'm taking responsibility, and I'll continue to make videos," he said.
Monday evening, immigration police took Mr Bartling to the Immigration Bureau to check his entry documents.
They found he holds a Non-B visa and is seeking an extension to his stay.
The authorities later released him.