For years, the major record labels were able to manipulate sales numbers and the sales charts. Billboard, Cash Box, Record World all charted records. The numbers were a cumulative score including both radio play and sales. I worked at Record World as an intern in the early 80's. My job was to call record stores and report units sold. As you can guess, this is not the most scientific method and until Soundscan came along, it was the way things were done.
There is a bit of a clamor that the labels are at it again, but this time it involves manipulating YouTube views for their videos. YouTube began a campaign against falsely inflated views, but it turns out this has nothing to do with the decrease in views on videos by Universal and Sony artists. The sudden drop in views led people to believe the labels had their trolls out inflating the views.
As TechDirt points out it turns out that most of the issue was just that the labels had moved their videos from YouTube to Vevo -- the online video site that the labels had started a few years ago (built on top of YouTube technology). As Billboard notes, the "de-spamming" effort did delete about 1.5 million views from Sony and Universal Music videos -- so there may be some funny business, but that's tiny compared to the 2 billion views that disappeared.
YouTube also changed the way they count "dead videos" which would include those videos that have been moving over to Vevo. Highly viewed videos that were on Universal and Sony's YouTube channels are now at Vevo. As a result, the views that those videos received during their time on the dedicated label channels were taken away in YouTube's latest "clean up" effort.
It's nice to start off the year with a clean slate.