ABC News Hong Kong crew misidentified in viral social media photo

A photo of ABC News journalists falsely claims they're government operatives.

A photograph circulating on social media misidentifies Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell and an ABC News crew as "external advisers" and "an operational support team" for protesters in Hong Kong.

The picture was taken on Tuesday apparently from an apartment building at the intersection of Star Street and Monmouth Path in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong, next to the Three Pacific Place office building. The photo also misidentifies a vehicle used by the ABC News team as a "command car directing the protesters."

The ABC News team was in Hong Kong on Tuesday covering the unauthorized protest march in the Admiralty District, including the clearance operation outside the Hong Kong Government headquarters. The ABC News team had previously positioned its vehicles on Monmouth Path.

As the team members began walking to their vehicles around 5 p.m., the Hong Kong Police Force began a clearance operation on the western end of Queensway in the Admiralty District. Additional officers outfitted with riot gear positioned on a footbridge over Hennessy Road began firing tear gas at protesters and pedestrians, forcing them to flee on Queen's Road East, in front of Monmouth Path.

As Pannell and the crew turned onto Monmouth Path, they and other media members who were wearing neon, hi-visibility vests were caught between volleys of gasoline bombs from protesters and tear gas canisters from police.

Pannell filmed an on-camera report for "World News Tonight" in front of the confrontation at the foot of Monmouth Path, where he can be seen wearing the same shirt under his hi-visibility vest as in the circulated photo.

When filming was complete around 5:30 p.m., the news crew walked up the hill toward its vehicles and began transmitting footage back to New York to be seen on "Good Morning America."

Pannell, having endured 90-degree heat for much of the afternoon, changed into a fresh navy-blue shirt before appearing live on "Good Morning America."

A social media post of unknown origins emerged online Thursday that showed this point in time, clearly displaying the license plates of the two vehicles used by the team.

The original post was written in English by someone who claimed to be "ex-military," writing without citing evidence that the ABC News team "looks like an operational support team to me," adding, "With the car plate info, it's not difficult to dig in the background."

By Thursday afternoon, the post had been translated into Chinese and posted onto multiple pro-police Facebook groups. Later that evening, one of the vehicles and a driver hired by ABC News was tailgated closely on the Tuen Mun Road, a major expressway in the New Territories district of Hong Kong.

Shortly after 10 p.m., the driver, who'd completed his work for ABC News, was intercepted by two police vans in the Tin Shui Wai neighborhood of Northern Hong Kong. He was interrogated by police after someone reported to them seeing his van. The driver was released unharmed.